December 6

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"Set in the crazed, nationalistic Tokyo of late 1941, December 6 explores the coming world war through the other end of history's prism - a prism held here by an unforgettable rogue and lover, Harry Niles." "In many ways, Niles should be as American as apple pie: raised by missionary parents, taught to respect his elders and be an honorable and upright Christian citizen dreaming of the good life on the sun-blessed shores of California. But Niles is also Japanese: reared in the aesthetics of Shinto and educated in the dance halls and backroom ...
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Overview

"Set in the crazed, nationalistic Tokyo of late 1941, December 6 explores the coming world war through the other end of history's prism - a prism held here by an unforgettable rogue and lover, Harry Niles." "In many ways, Niles should be as American as apple pie: raised by missionary parents, taught to respect his elders and be an honorable and upright Christian citizen dreaming of the good life on the sun-blessed shores of California. But Niles is also Japanese: reared in the aesthetics of Shinto and educated in the dance halls and backroom poker gatherings of Tokyo's shady underworld to steal, trick and run for his life. As a gaijin, a foreigner - especially one with a gift for the artful scam - he draws suspicion and disfavor from Japanese police. This potent mixture of stiff tradition and intrigue - not to mention his brazen love affair with a Japanese mistress who would rather kill Harry than lose him - fills Harry's final days in Tokyo with suspense and fear. Who is he really working for? Is he a spy? For America? For the emperor?" Now, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, Harry himself must decide where his true allegiances lie.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
No one is better than Martin Cruz Smith (Rose, Red Square, Gorky Park) at evoking the sights, sounds, and peculiar textures of lives lived in extraordinary times and places. With December 6, Smith moves from the contemporary Cuban setting of his previous novel, Havana Bay, to Tokyo City in 1945, giving us a suspenseful, minutely detailed account of the days preceding -- and immediately following -- the attack on Pearl Harbor.

His vehicle for this hypnotic ride is gambler, con man, and suspected collaborator Harry Niles, who grew up on the streets of Tokyo and is, in many respects, more Japanese than American. Harry runs a popular expatriate bar called The Happy Paris and juggles romantic relationships with the wife of the British ambassador and a tempestuous former geisha named Michiko. Like many of his fellow Americans, he's convinced that war is imminent and is determined to catch the last flight out of Japan before hostilities commence. His plans for escape face many obstacles, including the obsessive scrutiny of two zealous agents from Tokyo's "Thought Police" and a crazed modern samurai with a long-standing grudge against Harry that can only be satisfied by bloodshed. All of this is complicated by Harry's penchant for high-stakes gambling and by his own peculiar ethical code -- a code that leads him into a dangerous shell game with Japanese Naval Intelligence and causes him to risk his life protecting friends, lovers, and even strangers.

Like all really good fiction, December 6 works on a number of levels: as a thriller; as a multilayered portrait of a complex, contradictory figure; as a meditation on Japanese culture, character, and beliefs; and as a cogent historical analysis of Japan's decision to initiate a war it could not possibly win. The result is a striking, absolutely authentic novel that illuminates one of the critical moments of the 20th century and confirms Smith's position among the most stylish and intelligent American storytellers. Bill Sheehan

The New Yorker
Smith's new thriller is set in Tokyo in the last days of 1941, just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor; its central character, the American Harry Niles, grew up in Japan, where his missionary parents were preaching the Word. Harry isn't very holy, however: he owns a night club called the Happy Paris, dabbles in assorted short cons, and spends much of his time with various mistresses, including the possibly murderous Michiko, the jukebox girl at the Happy Paris. As the rumors of war heat up, Harry finds that he is the victim of his own equivocal identity: Americans worry that he has become too Japanese, and the Japanese suspect him of being a spy. Smith's plot is more than slightly reminiscent of "Casablanca," and the spectre of the Second World War seems, at this distance, almost quaint, but the characters are so well drawn and the local color so colorful that these quibbles hardly interfere with the novel's pleasures.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In early December, 1941, Harry Niles runs his nightclub, Happy Paris, in Tokyo's Asakuza district, keeps a mistress, and makes plans to escape from Japan with the British ambassador's wife. His departure is complicated by the Japanese, who consider him a spy and arrest him several times; the British and Americans, who deny him any help; and a Japanese soldier who wants him dead. He manages to elude most of his problems, narrowly escaping only to discover that he is trapped in Japan on December 7. Smith vividly conjures up the beauty of the country and the ugliness in people. Along with clear descriptions of locations, he creates realistic pictures of a distinct time and place. While the protagonist is the most fully developed, the secondary characters, as well as those who play far lesser roles, quickly take on distinct personalities and attributes. The book has flashbacks of Niles growing up in Japan as a mistreated and neglected son of American missionaries. As the plot progresses, his background helps to explain his attitude toward Japan, the imminent war, his relationships with two lovers, and his love of gambling against the odds. Since the story takes place over three days, the events move quickly and the plot is tightly woven together. The result is a historical thriller brimming with action, odd characters, and an ending well worth the read.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
War-ready Japan becomes as nostalgically wonderful as the doomed central Europe of Alan Furst in the latest masterwork from the author of Gorky Park. The gripping pleasure that put Smith (Havana Bay, 1999, etc.) at the top of Cold War-era thriller lists was his detailed and utterly believable revelation of Moscow as a weary city full of real people. Here, it's Tokyo-on December 6, 1941. Smith's guide to the tinderbox megalopolis is Harry Niles, an American supposedly in the care of his drunken uncle (the only iffy premise) while his missionary parents beat the bushes for potential Baptists. As a gaijin-foreigner-Harry is the permanent victim of his schoolboy chums in their re-creations of samurai sagas. The games may be imaginary, but the beatings are real, and Harry gains legendary survival skills along with the language and cultural understanding of a native. December 6 finds him the owner of Happy Paris, a nightclub featuring the d.j. skills of Michiko, a Modern Girl as thoroughly independent and wily as the cynical Harry. The pair's prickly relationship is complicated by Harry's occasional wanderings with the code-breaking wife of a fatuous British peer and by the mortally frightening news that Colonel Ishigami, whom Harry caused to lose face as Ishigami was removing heads in Manchuria, is in town and looking for him. He's not alone. Harry's tormenting childhood friends have grown up, one of them making it into the inner circle of Admiral Yamamoto, and they too appear to have plans for Harry, whose own fate may narrow down to getting out of Tokyo before the balloon goes up. At the heart of Harry's problems is the little bit of bogus intelligence he's slipped into the militarymachinery in an effort to forestall the war that would inevitably obliterate the adopted country he loves so passionately. Intelligent, jazzy, romantic, unbelievably tense, completely absorbing. Worth the wait.
From the Publisher
The Denver Post [December 6] packs plenty of suspense....A page-turning thriller....A solid piece of entertainment and an undeniably brilliant display of the author's literary genius.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671775926
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.84 (w) x 4.20 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Cruz Smith’s novels include Stalin’s Ghost, Gorky Park, Rose, December 6, Polar Star, and Stallion Gate. A two-time winner of the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers and a recipient of Britain’s Golden Dagger Award, he lives in California.

Biography

"You have to be an outsider to write," the novelist Martin Cruz Smith has said, and the protagonists of Smith's novels also tend to be outsiders, viewing their surroundings with the wariness and sharpened attention of the displaced. Smith spent his early writing years churning out potboilers, but with the 1977 publication of Nightwing, a bestseller about a plague of vampire bats that descends on a Hopi Indian reservation, Smith finally earned enough money to embark on the book he really wanted to write: a detective novel set in Moscow.

The book opens on a grisly scene: three corpses are found frozen in Gorky Park, their faces and fingerprints obliterated. Homicide investigator Arkady Renko is put on the case, but his superiors seem less than eager to uncover the truth. Dense, atmospheric and intricately plotted, Gorky Park drew comparisons to the spy novels of John le Carré. It was hugely successful, and was made into a movie starring William Hurt in 1983. Smith wrote a historical novel about the first atom bomb, Stallion Gate, before returning to Renko’s checkered career as a detective in Polar Star and Red Square. Though he bears some resemblance to the disaffected detective of noir tradition, the cynical, depressive Renko also exemplifies the Soviet dissident -- an outsider in his own country.

Renko has been immensely popular with readers, some of whom were disappointed when Smith's 1996 novel Rose featured a new protagonist. But most Renko fans were won over by boozy, broke mining engineer Jonathan Blair, who arrives in an English coal-mining town on a mission to clear up the mysterious disappearance of the local curate. Time magazine called Rose "the most interesting and richly textured crime story of the season."

One thing that sets Smith's work apart from other thrillers is the breadth and depth of his research. Before writing Gorky Park, the author visited Moscow, befriended exiled Russians and read scores of Russian newspapers and magazines in translation. For Rose, he spent weeks in Lancashire talking with miners and visiting mines. Smith's recent works Havana Bay, in which Renko goes to Cuba, and December 6, set in Tokyo just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, are equally fortified with research.

Though he's best known for Gorky Park, now considered a classic in the spy thriller genre, Smith is clearly a writer with more than one trick up his sleeve. "I never thought I would just be doing Arkady books," he once told a Salon interviewer. "I never intended to do any after Gorky Park, so I was pretty amazed when people asked me a few years ago what I was going to do now that the Cold War was over, as if I had been manufacturing missiles. I hate to be categorized. The great thing about being a writer is that you are always recreating yourself."

Good To Know

Martin Cruz Smith was born Martin William Smith, but changed his middle name to his grandmother's surname, Cruz. Smith is the son of a white jazz musician and a Pueblo Indian jazz singer.

George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier was one inspiration for Smith's novel Rose, set in the English coal-mining town of Wigan; another was a magazine article about the "pit girls" who flouted Victorian convention by wearing pants for their dangerous jobs above the mines.

Havana Bay, which reached No. 17 on the bestseller list, apparently didn't sell quite well enough to keep both author and publishers happy; a Random House publicity director told Salon that "[Havana Bay] didn't do as well as we'd hoped." After it came out, Smith left Random House for Simon & Schuster, which was looking to add more authors who could draw a male audience.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Martin William Smith (birth name); Simon Quinn; Jake Logan
    2. Hometown:
      San Rafael, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 3, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Reading, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1964
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

[MUST BEAR CENSOR'S STAMP FOR TRANSMISSION]

Letter from Tokyo

JAPAN APPEARS CALM AT BRINK OF WAR

British Protest "Defeatist Speech" by American

By Al DeGeorge

Special to The Christian Science Monitor

TOKYO, DEC. 5 — While last-minute negotiations to avert war between the United States and Japan approached their deadline in Washington, the average citizen of Tokyo basked in unusually pleasant December weather. This month is traditionally given to New Year's preparations and 1941 is no exception. Residents are sprucing up their houses, restuffing quilts and setting out new tatamis, the grass mats that cover the floor of every Japanese home. When Tokyoites meet, they discuss not matters of state but how, despite food rationing, to secure the oranges and lobsters that no New Year's celebration would be complete without. Even decorative pine boughs are in short supply, since the American embargo on oil has put most civilian trucks on blocks. One way or another, residents find ingenious solutions to problems caused by the embargo's sweeping ban on everything from steel and rubber to aviation fuel. In the case of oil, most taxis now run on charcoal burned by a stove in the trunk. Cars may not have the old oomph, but passengers in Tokyo have learned to be patient.

In a country where the emperor is worshiped, there is no doubt about Japan's position in the negotiations, that Japan has fairly won China and deserves to have the embargo lifted. The American position, that Japan must withdraw its troops first, is considered hypocritical or misguided. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Henry Stimson are regarded here as unfriendly, but the Japanese people have great faith in President Franklin Roosevelt as a more sympathetic ear. A Ginza noodle vendor gave his appraisal of the high-level stalemate: "It is the same with all negotiations. At the last moment, resolution!"

In fact, one of the most anticipated events is the release of the censor's list of new films from Hollywood. There is no embargo on American movies. They fill the theaters, and stars like Bette Davis and Cary Grant grace the covers of fan magazines here. The older generation may sit still for Kabuki, but the younger set is wild for the silver screen.

The only frayed nerves visible showed in a speech delivered today at the Chrysanthemum Club, the meeting place for Tokyo's banking and industrial elite. American businessman Harry Niles declared that Japan had just as much right to interfere in China as America did to "send the marines into Mexico or Cuba." Niles described the American embargo as an effort to "starve the hardworking people of Japan." He also attacked Great Britain for "sucking the life's blood of half the world and calling it a Christian duty."

British Embassy First Secretary Sir Arnold Beechum said that Niles's words were "out-and-out defeatist. The French and the Danes fell through the treasonous activities of collaborationists just like Niles. We are seriously considering a protest to the American embassy over the activities of their national." The American embassy refused to comment, although one official suggested that Niles had stood outside embassy control for a long time. The official, who preferred anonymity, said the club's choice of Niles as its speaker was telling. "It's a strong suggestion of Japanese impatience with the talks in Washington, an ominous indication, I'm afraid."

Otherwise, the city went about its business in its usual brisk fashion, squirreling away treats for the New Year, perhaps lighting an extra stick of incense to pray with, but apparently confident that no final rupture will break Japan's amiable relationship with the United States.

[CABLE TRANSMISSION DENIED]

[MUST BE TRANSLATED INTO JAPANESE FOR CABLE TRANSMISSION]

Copyright © 2002 by Titanic Productions

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

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(15)

4 Star

(11)

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(3)

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(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2003

    Profound deceit

    It's no wonder that thriller readers will read December 6th and will be puzzled, to say the least. 'Thriller' is the guise of this Kfakaesque novel. The difficulty in understanding Harry Niles is because this is not a linear novel. It's true apex is a single amazing, love scene (which you'll never forget) that occurs in the middle of the novel. His lover is then gone and Harry is as good as dead without even knowing it. Not dead in the Western sense, but in the dramatic, suicidal Japanese way. The sights, sounds and aromas of this novel will lead you in all directions. If you don't try to pegg December 6th into a ready-made genre but let the novel 'come to you' you're in for a litrary treat. A profound and sophisticated work of art that just 'happens to be' a crackiling, suspensful thriller. Unlike Arkady, the hero of Gorkey Park, Harry is not the protagonist who the story happens to -- he IS the story. Realizing it takes unwrapping the novel layer by amazing layer only to find...you'll have to make up your own mind about that. I don't believe any two readers will find the same core. An amazing work of art by a towering master disguised as 'popular fiction' writer.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2011

    Excellent Book

    This is a look at Pearl Harbor seen by an American in Japan, who is more Japanese than American. It is a suspenseful read, full of detail about living in Japan and Japanese attitudes towards the world at that time. This is a book that can hold your attention from about page 20 to the end. And, as a Nook book, it is certainly a bargain.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2008

    This is the best of Martin Cruz Smith's books yet.

    This is such a good book that I sat here and read the whole thing in less than a day. As a thriller, it kept me enthralled more than anything I have read in years. What a good entertainment.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2004

    Almost Perfect Pitch

    I felt inclined to add a comment on this book because I think Martin Cruz Smith has done something quite extraordinary: he has written a novel that catches the sense of life in Japan extremely well. His talent in this regard was certainly evident in his Arkady Renko novels, where his version of life inside the Soviet Union seemed to have just the right feel to it. In December 6, he has not only gotten Japan pretty much right -- down to the 'kaeru no uta' song that children sing -- but also paints the varying shades of what it can mean to be a gaijin in Japan just about perfectly. Others have compared this book to Casablanca and they are not wrong. Like Casablanca, this book is true to the intricacies of early World War II history, diplomacy, and politics. Unlike Casablanca, though, the culture of the locale is not just background: it carries the bulk of the story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2003

    last day of peace

    This story set in 1941 Japan has many historical twists and almost would lead you to a "what if" situation. Harry Niles, the central character, grew up in Japan,is a son of misionaries who spread their word in Japan. Harry is not a spreader of the good word, he runs a nightclub and follows the Japanese way of life. The biggest struggle for Harry is to decide if he is a Japanese citizen or a true American. He has friends (both men & women) who try to understand him and enemies from the Police and a certain Army Major that challenge his true inner self. Harry has to make a decision which will test his loyalty between the country of his blood or the home of the Rising Sun.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013

    Not too bad ......

    I enjoy world history from this time period and I also have read every Arkady Renko novel and thoroughly enjoyed those. So, naturally I had to read December 6. It does not have quite the "can't put it down" factor of the Renko novels, but is still a pretty good read if you like historical novels of this time period.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    Author's best.

    Casablanca in Japan.

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  • Posted March 30, 2012

    For everyone who loves fiction base on fact.

    As a person who lived thru WWII and clearly remembers December 7th I thoroughly enjoyed this. It is Martin Cruz Smith's best to date. Gorky Park and Rose were good, December 6 is great. In it I discovered much about Japan and I was held in fantastic suspense even though I knew the big answer of bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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  • Posted January 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Piece Of Historical Fiction!

    I love Smith's Arkady Renko series but didn't know what to expect here. What I got was a great piece of historical fiction about the Japanese side of the events leading up to Pearl Harbor. Smith's lead, Harry Niles, is a fun somehow relatable character although its unlikely anyone has lead a similar life, as an American missionary living and thriving in '40s Japan. The fantastic atmosphere that's created here really illuminates a part of the world many Americans don't know especially during that time frame. Truely a great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2005

    Complex and Compelling

    On the eve of the Japanese sneak attack against the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, Harry Niles, a roguish expat American adventurer, who had actually been raised in Japan and grown up in a near feral state in the mean streets of the seamy side of Tokyo, finds himself still stuck in that country, angling to get out. All around him the people he knows, both Japanese and foreign, are engaged in an elaborate dance, fearing and expecting war but hoping against hope that they'll be proved wrong. Martin Cruz Smith does a wonderful job of conjuring up this lost pre-war world of depravity, dissolution and Japanese honor, and of creating a sense of what it might have been like to be completely enmeshed in that culture, so alien to us and yet so familiar to his protagonist, Niles. The book actually opens with the young Harry, son of Southern Baptist missionaries and now a Tokyo school boy, fleeing from his schoolmates in an eerie game of 47 Ronin which puts Harry on the receiving end of his friends' relentless blows. As in the best novels, the seeds of the rest of the tale are all found here, for the opening scene will eerily reach its denoument, years later, as Harry struggles for his life amidst a militant Japanese society bent on establishing itself in the modern world. In the meantime, Harry is tied to a lover, a bohemian Japanese woman he barely understands, as he philanders with the British ambassador's wife and struggles to stay afloat amidst the intrigue of competing Japanese factions. The adherents of the Japanese navy and army are in seeming conflict, despite the superficial loyalty to the emperor they share, while the Tokyo police are shadowing him closely. At the same time, a skilled Japanese swordsman, Colonel Ishigami, has returned from the Chinese campaign intent on taking vengeance on Harry for a loss of face he caused him some years before in China where Harry had been doing a little blackmarketeering. There's a secret plan to develop synthetic oil and a question of who may have been stealing oil shipments to the island nation that Harry must decipher for some of the parties and all the while he's got to nail down a way to get out of the country, without giving his exit plans away to a government that wants to keep him there and a lover who threatens to kill him if he goes. This is a deep and complex tale and one that is compelling from beginning to end. For a first class adventure, in the old film noir Humprhey Bogart mold, you won't find better. I don't usually offer glowing praise about the books I read like this, but when they hold me to them and keep calling me back till late in the evening, what else can I do? As an author of a very different sort of adventure, The King of Vinland's Saga, about vikings in North America in the eleventh century, I know how hard it can be to keep a story moving with this kind of power. Martin Cruz Smith is an author with much to teach and well worth reading. -- SWM

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2002

    Sumptuous, Elegant, Delightful

    This story transports you to Tokyo days before Pearl Harbor. Harry Niles, a quintessentially American con man with a unique moral code, manipulates others as he and the events of this time in Tokyo roil perceptions. Filled with movement, color, intriguing characters. Martin Cruz Smith is a remarkable writer who has created a rich and substantial story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2002

    December 6

    I would only recommend this title to people with insomnia. In fact if half a star was an option I would have chosen that. By a long shot this is definitely not one of Mr. Cruz-Smith's best. The mere title of this book suggests action and excitement though that couldn't be further from the truth. Instead you read through endless dialog hoping it will get better but it never does. I read on hoping that at least something would happen to make me like or even care about the main character Harry Niles but that didn't happen either. I found him to be very one-dimensional and callous. I cannot remember the last time I was this bored reading a book, it would often lay untouched for days at a time until I finally finished. Dull and disappointing. Do not waste your money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2002

    Kim in Casablanca?

    I don't see the "imagination". Harry is Kim in the youth chapters, Rick Blaine in the 1941 part.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2002

    December 6

    After reading Martin Cruz Smith's fabulous work in Gorky Park, Polar Star, Red Square and the mysterious Rose I have to say I questioned the fact that I was reading the same author in December 6. I also read with amazement the rave reviews this book received on the B & N website and again questioned whether I had a different version of this book. Overall the book was flat and dull with far too much dialog and not nearly enough action as in Mr. Smith's previous works. I cannot remember ever disliking a main character as much as I disliked Harry Niles. One word to it's credit I do say the sights, sounds and smells of pre-WWII Tokyo are described vividly and well. But overall definitely not recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2002

    Perhaps his best

    I loved Gorky Park and Red Star his other works not as good as these two but December 6 is his best. Would love a sequel!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2002

    Thoroughly Original

    I am someone who is sort of a history buff, but prefers to learn about history through a fictional novel. Martin Cruz Smith does a great job of making you feel what life was like in Tokyo on the eve of Pearl Harbor. The characters are well developed and gives you an understanding of the Japanese and why they attacked pearl harbor. The story rolls along and climaxes with a great ending. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2002

    Martin Cruz Smith is at the Top of his Game

    Cruz Smith is at his best since Gorky Park and Polar Star. His anti-hero, Harry, a gaijin American reared in Japan is a character one hopes to read again in a sequel. Cruz Smith is at his best in researching a culture which few Westerners understand. The historical background has one breathless with wonder at the precision and respect he grants Japanese culture. It is both a thriller and a historical novel. The reader will not be able to put it down.

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    Posted March 10, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2011

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