2 out of 4 stars
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Dragonbreath, by Clifford Harwood, is a short thriller of about 116 pages. The U.S. Dance Pageant is due to be held in Tokyo. Fifty young female dancers leave the United States to take part in the pageant, but Japanese gangsters and corrupt officials conspire to kidnap the women and make them part of their international sex-trafficking operation. Enter Mike Davis. He’s an American expatriate living in Tokyo. He’s also a Vietnam veteran, a former Secret Service agent, and an ex-lover of the current U.S. First Lady. It’s maybe that last fact that makes him a man ‘tormented by his past and uncertain of his future.’ (page 12) An uncertain future is all you’ve got when the U.S. President wants you dead.
Mike lives on a boat, the ‘Fuji Maru’, that is owned by the elderly Mr Fujiyama. Mr Fujiyama is a former officer of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The pair find themselves caught up in the plot to kidnap the dancers. Trying desperately to save the women, they end up being pursued by a collection of corrupt law-enforcement officers, the Yakuza, and the President’s trusted hitman. Mike and Mr Fujiyama discover that the islands of Japan provide room to run but few places to hide.
There were two aspects of this book that I thought were particularly commendable. Firstly, it is very good on history. It weaves into the story events like the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945 that resulted in the deaths of around 100,000 civilians. That was something I was only vaguely aware of. The author also throws in references to other World War II incidents and characters that ground his story in reality. Secondly, the author is strong on technical detail. When he writes about engine functionality or the nuts and bolts of guns, you get the strong impression of someone who knows his subjects. As with the historical detail, this adds credibility to his writing.
I didn’t like that the book doesn’t have any chapter or section breaks. This makes it difficult, for example, to discern when there has been a change of scene or characters. Locations shift abruptly from one line to the next without warning, making it difficult to make sense of what is happening. I also thought the plot was creaky and the characters weakly drawn. Neither convinced me nor held my interest.
I rate this book two out of four stars. I am deducting one star for its poor structuring and another for the weaknesses in the plot and characters. The book is written for adults. It doesn’t contain any seriously profane language, but there are some references to sex that make it unsuitable for children. It has been very well edited; I found only a single, minor error. The book is aimed at readers who enjoy thrillers and crime novels.
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