A Book Spy Review: ‘The Gentleman From Japan’ By James Church

51b+pTT1I8L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWhen seven different people are murdered overnight in China, one man is called upon to connect the dots and figure out who’s behind it all.

Three old men, two prostitutes, a tourist, and one mysterious man dining in a fancy restaurant all turn up dead in what appears to be the work of a strange attacker. The mayor suspects it’s part of a terrorist attack and demands answers.

Major Bing Zong-Yuan, a young Chinese State Security officer who serves as the story’s narrator, begins looking into the case. While capable in his own right, it doesn’t take long for Bing to seek the guidance of his uncle, the legendary Inspector O, a retired North Korean police inspector.

Inspector O now runs his own North Korean-based private detective agency, but happily takes time off to lend a hand to his nephew.

After discovering that an ex-triad chief is back in Yanji, Inspector O connects him to one of the victims. Following that development and a sneaky intuition that a much larger game is afoot, uncle and nephew take off in opposite directions as they each chase different leads.

Inspector O’s investigation leads to him going undercover to learn more about a plot involving key components needed for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Posing simply as “the man from Japan,” O’s undercover identity is that of a Japanese gangster. Bing, meanwhile, follows up some loose ends in China while also dealing with an angry mayor who can’t run fast enough from the political fallout due to the unsolved murders.

Interestingly, the name “James Church” is actually an alias used by the author, who is a former long-time intelligence operative who spent time near North Korea. In that regard, Church is among the few authors in the genre who writes from actual experience, and he specializes on a part of the world most spy novelists never touch on. 

Church’s latest offering is a smart thriller and is quite unlike anything else currently circling around the genre. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s a spy book or a crime drama, but Church mixes elements from both to create a unique blend of fiction.

Inspector O is a mysterious character, which adds to the overall intrigue of the story. Readers will never know all that much about him, but certain personality traits shine through enough to make following him around fairly entertaining. That said, it takes a while to understand what motivates him and makes him tick.

While most spy books are set in America, the Middle East, or Russia, Church’s series thrives in less-utilized locations. His bold, in-depth descriptions make adjusting to these new settings much easier, but the linear plot falls flat near the middle and never fully recovers.

The Gentleman From Japan is a solid option for readers who are between books, or those who are seeking a spy novel set in east Asia, but it’s not otherwise noteworthy. There are some nice thrills here and there, but overall the story struggles to maintain its energy and feels a tad too clunky.

Book Details

Author: James Church
Series: Inspector O #6
Pages: 273 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0312614314
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: December 6, 2016 (Order Now!)


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