Teahouse of the August Moon is one of my very favorite movies. It deals with occupied Japan and celebrates Japanese village culture and the wonderful people on the island of Okinawa. It stars Marlon Brando and is part comedy, part romance and all together lovely. When I saw this novel I was beyond delighted to read it since I hoped it contained some of the same elements that made the film so terrific. Alas, that was not to be the case.
Lieutenant Alex Rada, is a sarcastic screw up with a penchant for landing himself into trouble. He would tell you those are his good traits. He is in Japan because he has some understanding of Japanese and has been put to work translating letters for General MacArthur. He is surprised by the tone of these letters – most of the writers aren’t in the least bitter about the loss of the war but actually praise the General and the occupation. Many invite the Americans to local events. Others give advice on running the country. Yet others inform the General where ostensible war criminals can be found. It is one such letter that leads Rada into his latest batch of trouble.
As a result of the missive, Rada is seconded to CID (military criminal investigation) and SCAP (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General MacArthur.) It seems an execution is about to be committed and they want Rada and his partner, Captain Tanizaki Jinno, to find the victim and prevent the murder before it takes place. The mission gets off to a violent start when Rada gets into a fight with a group of demonstrators for the Japanese Communist party. Rada has a long and volatile history with Communists, a fact which turns out is important to his mission. Rather than being court martialed for his actions he is allowed to “relax and recreate” for the next few days. His way of doing that? Hit a local bar filled with Aussie soldiers. The Aussies, a relaxed crowd, always know the way to the best brothels. Following their directions to a club filled with local girls – since he has “a little thing for Oriental women” he meets Rachel, our femme fatale. And heads irreversibly down a crazy path toward destruction.
This is a fairly typical hardboiled detective story. While the author has the opportunity to use the location and culture to set the book apart he doesn’t utilize that and instead keeps the focus on the characters. This would be all right if it weren’t for the fact that the sarcastic Rada isn’t really that enjoyable a character to spend time with. It doesn’t help that he’s a bit of a patsy, always falling into one scrape after another. It is not till the end of the novel that he actually pulls it together enough to see what is going on and how he can make that work for him to an extent.
Beyond Rada the novel places its focus on General Douglas MacArthur, who was apparently a not so great guy. The information given made for some mildly interesting reading but I felt that focusing the story almost entirely on internal American politics was a mistake. While the assassination Rada was “investigating” had an interesting twist to it, it can hardly be something that shocks an adult audience.
Some of the history listed here is fascinating and the staccato writing style works well for the tale being told but in the end I just didn’t connect with the story. Unless you are a rabid fan of the noir style detective tale I don’t think this book has anything for you.