by Michael Slade
Reviewed by Bev Vincent
In Swastika, Michael Slade explored the European component of World War II. In a natural progression, Kamikaze examines the Pacific campaign, from atrocities committed against allied troops to the invasion of Okinawa and the bombing of Hiroshima. Slade obviously believes that no war remains locked in the past, but instead extends tentacles into the present and beyond.
The infamous attack on Pearl Harbor was only one component of a campaign by the Japanese to neutralize the entire Pacific rim, with simultaneous attacks on Hawaii, Hong Kong, Malaya, Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island and Midway.
Slade displays particular interest in the Hong Kong invasion, since many soldiers assigned to defend the colony were Canadian. A particularly heinous event took place on Christmas Day, 1941, when Japanese soldiers attacked a field hospital at St. Stephen’s College. Injured soldiers were tortured, mutilated and slaughtered. Nurses were raped and beaten. The survivors spent the rest of the war in POW camps.
Slade brings together General Tokuda–a hideously scarred old man who not only was present at St. Stephen’s but is also a Hiroshima survivor–and Joe Hett, who was among the crew of the Enola Gay. Tokuda, now the supreme boss of the post-war yakuza crime syndicate, is obsessed by the Japanese concept of bushido-the Way of the Warrior. He travels to Vancouver to retrieve a mysterious vial of blood of great significance to him.
It just so happens that Vancouver is also the site of the Veterans of the Pacific Conference. The last three surviving members of the Hett family, representing three generations, convene for the conference: Colonel Joe Hett is a keynote speaker; his son Chuck is recently retired from Strategic Air Command; Chuck’s daughter Jackie is the family “turncoat,” having abandoned her birth nation to join Canada’s famous police force.
No Slade novel would be complete without a psychopath or two. The one who calls himself Kamikaze–the Divine Wind–is devoted to the destruction of the Hetts because of their connection to Hiroshima. He idolizes Tokuda and sees him as a father figure.
The other homicidal maniac wants to avenge the murder of the father she never knew, one of the victims of St. Stephen’s.
However, Slade also has some hidden agendas. He’s not satisfied to merely present an intriguing whodunit that will have mystery lovers scratching their heads and sorting through enough red herrings to stock a fish hatchery-though he does.
In Swastika, Slade lamented the sanitization of certain Nazi war criminals whose talents were coveted by the American military. In Kamikaze, he postulates a controversial hidden motivation for the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima that doesn’t appear in most history books.
The lies of governments, Slade suggests, are paid for with the blood of the young men and women who are sent to fight the wars these lies create. References to the contemporary fable of WMDs leave no doubt about which particular lies Slade has in mind. He also addresses the plight of Japanese immigrants who were sent to internment camps during the war and later deported for no reason other than their ancestry.
Fans of the series may miss seeing some of the old Special X regulars, since several of them are present only in cameo roles. With Jackie Hett and her partner, Swastika alumna Dane Winter, Slade continues to expand the ranks of his fictitious force. He also manifests his willingness to heap abuse and even death upon major characters. Slade weaves together the historical strands of the narrative–complete with his famous attention to detail and rigorous research–with the contemporary tales of insane killers and the heroic feats of the Special X force in a gripping, tense and exciting climax.
Full disclosure: Kamikaze is dedicated in part to me. Slade and I have had several discussions about Canada’s experiences in Hong Kong during World War II. Three of my uncles were stationed there. One of them died on or about Christmas Day, 1941, possibly at St. Stephen’s. His body was never identified. I also own a well-worn and oft-read copy of the Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook.