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Alternative histories about JFK

by Mark Schreiber

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy next November is expected to see a flood of new works on that topic. Two alternative history novels have already appeared on this theme. In Stephen King’s “11/22/63: A Novel” (Scribner), Maine high school teacher Jake Epping finds a portal by which he can travel back in time to 1958.

Determined to change history and spare Americans the anguish of losing their beloved president, Jake goes to Texas and bides his time for the next five years until he can stop Lee Harvey Oswald from slaying JFK. In “The Third Bullet” (Simon and Schuster) — a reference to the head shot that fatally wounded JFK — Stephen Hunter weaves his expert knowledge of firearms and forensics into a thriller with a chillingly plausible new explanation for how the killing occurred.

The young and young at heart are sure to enjoy “The Fiend with Twenty Faces” (Kurodahan Press), Dan Luffey’s translation of Edogawa Rampo’s popular 1936 novelettes. One of the stories, which pits a criminal genius and master of disguise against brilliant sleuth Kogoro Akechi and his 12-year-old assistant Yoshio Kobayashi, is set in the Tokyo Station Hotel, which recently reopened after the station’s restoration.

Finally, for insights into the historical roots of present-day tensions between Japan and China, I recommend “The Sino-Japanese War and the Birth of Japanese Nationalism” (I-House Press) by Makito Saya. This 1894-95 war, Japan’s first major foreign conflict after emerging from 250 years of national isolation, lay the groundwork for its 20th-century militarism.

Saya’s descriptions of how dispatches by embedded war correspondents were harnessed to arouse nationalistic sentiments on the home front are of particular interest. For students of modern Japanese history, this book belongs on their shelf beside Saburo Ienaga’s “The Pacific War.”

Mark Schreiber is a fanatical collector and reader of mystery and thriller fiction set in Asia.