Staff Writer

In postwar Japan, a U.S. Army intelligence officer is found dead in his Tokyo apartment with a bullet in his skull. Military policemen declare it to be a suicide but CIA agent Ralph Carnaby and his Japanese-American sidekick, Dan Morita, uncover evidence that suggests something far more sinister is behind it. Before they know it, the pair is inadvertently drawn into a fast-paced conspiracy involving the U.S., China and the Soviet Union that threatens to change the course of Japan’s history forever.

Yamato, by Andrew Clare.
Kurodahan Press, Fiction.

If, that is, we were talking about the country’s real course of history. Andrew Clare’s “Yamato” is an alternative-history thriller that re-imagines 1953-era Japan in a whole new set of circumstances. Clare owes much of his approach to authors such as Philip Roth, who asked us in his 2004 novel, “The Plot Against America,” to believe that Charles Lindbergh defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election, a result that led the U.S. into isolationism. It’s a conclusion that is not in of itself beyond belief.

The basic setup of Clare’s Tokyo-based thriller also has merit. The Korean Peninsula is in turmoil and three countries are jockeying for control. However, the conflict leaves Japan vulnerable to those who might be looking to use the distraction in order to extend their own influence in the region. But how, exactly? And at what cost?

Clare keeps you in step with Carnaby and Morita as they battle internal rivalries, gangsters and a wider conspiracy that unravels the very fabric of their beliefs. You are unlikely to get lost in the story but that isn’t to say the storytelling itself is poor — just ask the poor Russian who gets hung by the neck in Tokyo in the prologue.