Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Savage Interlude

Savage Interlude by Dan Cushman. Jim Crawford, Botamba, and the Hammer, from Naked Ebony, are back in this tale of the African Congo. A photographer is murdered in Cairo because of something he brought back from the Congo, and Crawford trailing his girlfriend, a dancer in one of the backstreet dives, tells him the object must be somewhere in his baggage at the hotel where he was staying under a fake name. Breaking in, he finds only a metal spearhead and undeveloped film, either might be the clue to the mystery. But then a white woman shows up, claiming to be the photographer’s wife, and she tags along with him and the Hammer as they track the dead man’s trail backwards to start from the beginning, in hopes of discovering the secret worth millions. This is another good yarn, but with the same formula as all Cushman’s stories. And, as usual, Crawford ends of with the girl he plans to spend the rest of his life with – or until the next adventure, and another girl. We never learn what becomes of these beautiful women, either.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Chinese Assassin

The Chinese Assassin by Anthony Grey. In this well-written intrigue, and twisting plot involving American CIA, Russian KGB, and Chinese agents, a British Sinologist named Richard Scholfield is approached by a Chinese in 1976 claiming to be the lone survivor of a plane crash in Mongolia in 1971. Calling himself Yang, he leaves 8 Folios detailing a deep plot against Mao Tse Tong’s chief rival in 1971. Lin Pao was purported to be on the plane when an explosive brought it down. But the plot is much thicker than what is on the surface, and Scholfield is being manipulated by the CIA, KGB, and Chinese agents. At the core of the plot is the planned assassination of China’s leader, Mao Tse Tong.
         Although on first sight this has the appearance of a men’s action novel of the period, but it is more closely related to the Bourne series. Schofield studied in China’s universities in the 1950s, and speaks Chinese fluently, as well as Japanese. He is a 4th degree black belt in Kyoku-Shinkai karate, founded by the Korean, Mas Oyama. Even the cover features the beautiful Chinese agent, Tan Sui-ling. It would help draw readers’ attention. We do see Scholfield in a bit of action, but this novel is far more than what it appears.
         The author was a British reporter in China, and held prisoner for over two years as a hostage in exchange for Chinese prisoners in Hong Kong. He was familiar with China and its people, and the novel has a touch of reality as we follow the plot from Britain to America, and finally to China, where the plot unfolds deep underground where Mao Tse-Tong lies weakened, waiting for death. Top notch.

Friday, April 4, 2014



James Michener wrote the novel, but his wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, deserves a lot of the credit; she did the research that brought the novel to life. I was stationed in Korea in the late 1950s when marriages between American servicemen and local women were still strongly discouraged. Still, many young soldiers found the women to their liking, and it was impossible to stop marriages. The novel actually takes place in Japan in 1952, when military men could marry young Japanese girls, but not take them back to America with them. The story follows Major Gruver and one of his men, Airman Joe Kelly. Kelly marries a young Japanese girl against Major Gruver’s wishes, but he doesn’t interfere with the wedding. This causes problems with the commanding general, the father of the girl Gruver plans on marrying. It causes a rift in Gruver’s own wedding plans to the general’s daughter. After meeting a beautiful Japanese woman, he knows now what has driven young Kelly to risk his freedom.

The novel was a real treat, and captured the time perfectly. Major Gruver, the son of a 4-Star General, is on the fast track to the general ranks himself. He jeopardizes that career when he meets Hana Ogi, a beautiful Japanese dancer, and before he knows it, he’s madly in love with the actress. Both face rejections, however. He from the military, and she from her career on the stage. WWII was still in the memory of both nations, and the idea of young G.I.s marrying Japanese women was strongly discouraged on both sides.

James Michener was a veteran of that war, and spent considerable time in the region. His story reflects the attitude Americans still had for our recent enemy, and the thought of young American boys bringing home a Japanese bride was looked down upon. It was an attitude that would take years to soften, and in the meantime Japanese wives continued coming to the US. This tale is a bittersweet romance between two such couples, and how it played out. Although the novel is more detailed than the movie, I prefer the ending in the movie to the book. But no matter which way you view the story it will leave a lasting memory in your heart. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Flower Drum Song

The Flower Drum Song by C.Y. Lee. The generation gap, the age-old story of the battle between the old generation and the new. In this case, it is San Francisco’s Chinese population during the late 1940s and early ‘50s. The House of Wang is headed by Old Man Wang and his sister-in-law, Madame Tang. They believe in the old ways, but Wang’s sons are learning the new ways of America, and the two generations crash. To make matters worse, the older son, Wang Ta is troubled by sexual desires, and searching for a girl to marry, while his father and Madame Tang plan an arranged marriage between families. Things come to a head when a father and daughter team of street musicians land on the doorstep. May Li and her songs capture Wang Ta’s heart, but it goes against the arranged plans of his elders.

The first half of this 244-page novel was slow and boring, but picks up interest in the second half, when May Li and her father enter the story. The novel has received much praise from the Asian community, as it gives a picture of the times by a Chinese-American author in 1957. To be honest, a decade earlier, 1947, Emily Hahn, a Chinese-American woman who achieved success in the early days of 1900s, by obtaining an engineering degree, as well as becoming a professional writer and independent woman of the period, wrote a more powerful story. “Miss Ann of Shanghai” tells the story of a more turbulent time in Chinese history. Other novels, although not written by Asians, yet tell their story in a more powerful setting: “Sayonara” by James Michener, whose Japanese-American wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa actually did the research for the book. She had been put in a California internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor, yet eventually completed her education, achieving much success as a Japanese-American woman before she and Michener married. “The World of Susie Wong” by Richard Mason, about a Chinese prostitute in Hong Kong is also a powerful tale about a Chinese woman. There have been many others that, in my opinion, are far better novels than “The Flower Drum Song”. Nor can I imagine the Wang family as the typical Chinese immigrant. Most likely a millionaire when he arrived, his children are treated to the best life money can offer them. Wang Ta, the eldest son, unable to find work befitting his status, goes back to college for another 8 years to become a doctor. He already has one degree. I was more sympathetic to the street musicians, May Li and her father, who earned seven dollars from May Li’s singing and dancing, to pay for a dollar’s room in a bedbug infested room. The average immigrant probably arrived in America with a dream, a skill, and the clothes on their back, not a million dollars. But, again, the second half of the novel saves the book from a failing rating. All the first half does is show the reader the difference between generations at the time, which seems to be played out in every generation, and I didn’t find very entertaining.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Naked Ebony

Naked Ebony by Dan Cushman. Jim Crawford and his African assistant, the giant Botamba, are in a bar to meet Ed Foley. It seems Foley has a scheme to make some money, but wants Crawford’s strong arm to pull it off. He’s to meet a girl in the hotel and take a package to be delivered. However, another man, the Hammer is also after the package. The Hammer, Runkhammer, is a huge, muscular man of great strength, and Foley is afraid of him. Crawford receives the package, and then everything goes wrong. They lose the package, and the girl and her scientist husband disappear again with the package after Crawford removes it from the Hammer’s clutches. Cushman uses the same formula for all his stories, though this one is set in Africa, not Asia. The beautiful girl is Eurasian, a mix of French and Asian. She falls in love with Crawford, naturally. Still, the story could be set in any locale, and it would have worked. The author makes every story an adventure, and the characters are classics. The title may be a little misleading, but a fun read.