By James Kestrel
Hard Case Crime
“Five Decembers” is
one of the greatest books we have ever read. It is destined to be a classic of
American fiction for so, so many reasons.
It is late Nov. in Honolulu, 1941. Tensions
between the U.S. and Japan are
reaching a crescendo and the ghosts of war are once again manifesting
themselves. World War I veteran, Detective Joe McGrady is called to investigate
the brutal murder of a young couple; their bodies having been discovered in a
rickety shack up in the hills of a dairy farm. The boy was American, the girl Japanese
and their remains the grisly signature of a sadistic monster. No sooner than
McGrady begin his investigation when he learns the male victim was the nephew
of an Admiral in command of the island’s pacific fleet. Via this connection, the
evidence suggests the killer was in fact a trained spy and since fled Hawaii for Hong Kong.
At the Admiral’s
request, McGrady agrees to take up the chase and is soon packed and saying
farewell to Molly, a young college student he’d recently become involved with.
His hope is to catch the killer, turn him over to the British authorities and
then be home in only a few weeks. What McGrady fails to anticipate is the attack
on Pearl Harbor, the following week, Dec.7th that finds him wrongly
incarcerated in a Hong Kong jail cell. Unable
to convince the Brits of his identity and purpose, he helplessly witnesses the
Japanese invasion of Hong Kong and is subsequently captured as a prisoner of
war and brought to Japan.
What happens next to
McGrady is truly mesmerizing, as Kestrel paints a setting few Americans have
ever seen, let alone imagined; Japan during the war years. He masterfully
depicts characters from all walks of life attempting to cope with the living
nightmare that had seemingly swallowed all reality. The author captures people
insightfully, his characters brokenly human regardless of race and all of them
somehow significant to the entire story of McGrady’s personal odyssey. That he
survives to return back to Honolulu
is a heart-wrenching narrative and only the precursor for the book’s final
third in which McGrady, like a dog with a bone, picks up his old case and once
again begins his hunt for killer who had eluded all those years earlier.
“Five Decembers” is a gripping, taught, magnificent saga unlike anything we’ve ever read in our life. No understatement there. It is a work of power, brilliant plotting, heart and grace showing all the nobility of mankind as well as the depths of evil into which it can sink. Loves won and lost, enemies and allies encountered and a finale that will have you transfixed by its sheer, overwhelming beauty. What else can I say except, thank you, James Kestrel, for writing this book.