Fortunes of War

( 15 )


Four Japanese nationalists storm Tokyo's imperial palace and behead the emperor. Their goal: to invade Russia and conquer oil-rich Siberia in order to dominate the globe. Soon the world explodes in war, as Japan, Russia and the United States go head-to-head in a struggle that threatens total destruction. Now three men from three different nations must meet their ultimate challenge: to fight as patriots in a war driven by greed and madness--and save the planet from nothing less ...

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Four Japanese nationalists storm Tokyo's imperial palace and behead the emperor. Their goal: to invade Russia and conquer oil-rich Siberia in order to dominate the globe. Soon the world explodes in war, as Japan, Russia and the United States go head-to-head in a struggle that threatens total destruction. Now three men from three different nations must meet their ultimate challenge: to fight as patriots in a war driven by greed and madness--and save the planet from nothing less than a full-scale nuclear attack.

Stephen Coonts' Fortunes of War is an explosive, action-packed thriller.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
June 1998

Stephen Coonts's new military thriller, Fortunes of War, plays a riff of the Armageddon rag. Japanese politics and the possibility that Japan might have a secret army preparing for future combat and expansion fuel the plot. Coonts very carefully calls no side evil and makes sure that the Japanese people are not reduced to caricatures. Even so, in Fortunes of War, Japan's will, as a nation, is one of undiluted vengeance for the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S.

In Japan, four telephone repairmen enter the Emperor's quarters while the Emperor and his family sit in the garden with his top adviser. Atsuko Abe, Japan's prime minister, presents the Emperor with a plan to restore Japan to a world-class power. These plans include forcing Russia to hand an oil-rich Siberia over to the Japanese. Knowing that the Russians would not do this voluntarily, Abe has delineated a plan of attack against the Russians. This includes forcibly taking the oil fields by strategic military action. The Emperor is not pleased with this. His memory of World War II, and the destruction that it brought upon Japan, is fresh enough to warn him from such a course of obliteration. But the prime minister has made up his mind, feeling that the future belongs to Japan, with or without its Emperor.

Atsuko Abe leaves the palace. As the Emperor and his wife return to their chambers, they are confronted by the four telephone repairmen, who are, in fact, overzealous assassins. Following the ancient code of the samurai warrior, the four men chop off the Emperor's headandthen commit suicide, leaving no survivors and only one witness: the Empress of Japan, whose young son will be the new emperor.

Meanwhile, Jiru Kimura meets with U.S. military attaché Colonel Bob Cassidy. Kimura is a young jet pilot who works in the Japanese self-defense air corps. He was trained in the U.S., and he and Cassidy go back to the days in Colorado Springs when Cassidy was his instructor. Kimura has learned that the Japanese are beginning to mobilize their fighter jets, called Zeroes, and equip them with a superstealth capability so that they will be completely undetectable by radar. He passes the information on to Cassidy with the hopes that this knowledge will help avert World War III.

But the U.S. is slow to respond to this and other warnings. The red tape of Washington tangles anything it touches. Soon the Japanese invade Siberia and quickly go on the offensive in order to secure the area for themselves. Russia, under new leadership, has just begun to pick itself up from the brink of economic disaster, and so cannot afford to lose the oil fields on its frontier. Aleksander Kalugin, the Russian president, has just secured his country's borders, and the Japanese threat might just topple his shaky government. As the threat of nuclear war increases, Kimura, Cassidy, and others are drawn into the vortex of action in the sky and on the earth. This makes for some tense air battles, particularly between Jiro Kimura and his mentor, Bob Cassidy.

Coonts's novel is a fast-paced, world-class read but suffers a bit from a lack of focus on any one character. Still, Coonts's characters are well-drawn and make for compelling reading. The arena of war is definitely the setting of the novel, even while it jumps from Japan to Washington to Moscow to Siberia. For fans of Coonts, as well as those interested in Japan and its politics, FORTUNES OF WAR is compulsive reading.

Douglas Clegg

Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including Dark of the Eye and The Children's Hour. His most recent short story, "O, Rare and Most Exquisite," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 10.

From the Publisher
"Coonts is a master."— San Jose Mercury News

"From the master of the techno-thriller, a gripping tale of a new Russo-Japanese war."— People magazine

"Splendid ... Coonts's best yet."— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

San Jose Mercury News

Coonts is a master.
People magazine

From the master of the techno-thriller, a gripping tale of a new Russo-Japanese war.
School Library Journal
YA-A modern military thriller. U.S. Colonel Cassidy and Jiro Kimura, a Japanese fighter pilot, friends since they met at the Air Force Academy, find themselves on opposing sides of a highly charged political situation. Japanese radicals have taken over their country and hope to seize Siberian oil fields to help the failing Japanese economy. Sent to help the Russians, Cassidy and his team of American pilots try to avert a nuclear holocaust. Meanwhile, a Russian submarine inflicts damage on the Japanese coast. The stealthy events leading to the beheading of the Japanese emperor in the opening chapter grab readers' attention. Intense action and the use of short sentences and fragments heighten the dramatic urgency and speed the plot along. There are numerous military details; however, it is possible to skim through them and still get to know the characters and follow the story. This fast read is a good introduction to adult military novels for teens, who will also learn something of Japanese and Russian history from the cultural details woven into the story.-Claudia Moore, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
Kirkus Reviews
The veteran flyboy tale-spinner (The Intruders, 1994, etc.) rewrites the near-future-war formulaþwith splendid results. With the high-tech thriller genre suffering from a shortage of drawing-board hardware and credible villains, it's wonderful to find Coonts breaking free from Clancy-esque overplotting to craft an oddly optimistic war drama that's less about the mechanics of warfare than the conflicted loyalties of the soldiers who'll fight it. The admittedly contrived scenario involves a plan by fanatical right-wing Japanese Prime Minister (and Yukio Mishima fan) Atsuko Abe to annex oil-rich portions of Siberia by using a squadron of radar-invisible Zero fighter jets and an illicit nuclear arsenal. American President David Hood, eager to meddle but not get officially involved, sends a bunch of F-22 fighters with a crew of crackerjack flyboys to "assist" Russian President Aleksandr Kalugin, a maniac with Stalin-esque ambitions and a few nuclear warheads left over from the bad old days. Once the fighting starts, Coonts wisely shifts his story away from the heavily caricatured government leaders to an assortment of middle- to upper-level flyboys, spies, and submarine crewmen whose patriotism and stoic devotion to duty are complicated by feelings of sympathy and camaraderie with "the enemy." They are also, to a man (and woman, a tough-as-nails fighter pilot and one of Coonts's more memorable creations), horrified at the devastation they're about to unleash. Superb battle scenes, in the air or under Tokyo Harbor, lead to a climactic aerial dogfight between Jack Cassidy, an emotionally vulnerable F-22 squadron commander, and his Japanese opposite numberþCaptain Jiro Kimura.Having trained together in the US, Kimura and Cassidy are close friends who can, if they choose, end the conflict before it leads to world destruction. A stirring examination of the courage, compassion, and profound nobility of military professionals under fire. Coonts's best yet. ($300,000 ad/promo; author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312969417
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 804,075
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Coonts

With over 15 million copies of his bestselling books in print, Stephen Coonts is one of today's foremost chroniclers of suspence fiction, with thrillers that soar full-throttle into heart-stopping excitement. Now he pens a novel of infinite power, chillingly portraying the madness that fuels destruction-and the courage to step into the heart of devastating war.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      July 19, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Morgantown, West Virginia
    1. Education:
      B.A., West Virginia University, 1968; J.D., University of Colorado, 1979

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

    THE TWO TELEPHONE company vans moved along the traffic-choked boulevard beside the Imperial Palace at a snail's pace, precisely the speed at which everyone drove. Traffic in Tokyo this June morning was heavy, as usual. Reeking exhaust fumes rose from the packed roadways into the warm, hazy air in shimmering waves.

    In the lead van, the driver kept his eyes strictly on the traffic. The driver was in his mid-twenties, and he looked extraordinarily fit in his telephone company one-piece jumper. He wore a blue company billed cap over short, carefully groomed hair. Concentrating fiercely on the traffic around him, he drove with both hands on the steering wheel.

    The passenger in the lead van was a few years older than the driver. He, too, wore a one-piece blue jumper and billed cap, both of which sported the company logo. This man examined with sharp, intelligent eyes the stone wall that surrounded the palace grounds.

    Between the fifteen-foot wall and the boulevard was a centuries-old moat that still contained water. Atop the wall was a green tangle of trees and shrubs, seemingly impenetrable. There were actually two moats, an outer moat and an inner one, but here and there they had been permanently bridged. In many places, they had just been filled in. Here in the heart of Tokyo, the remaining hundred-foot-wide expanses of water populated with ducks and lined with people were stunning, inviting, an inducement to contemplation.

    The passenger of the lead van paid little attention to the open water or the crowds. He was interested in police cars and palace security vehicles, and he mentioned every one he saw to the driver. Occasionally, he checked his watch.

    When the two vans had completely circled the royal compound, the man in the cargo area of the lead van spoke a few words into a handheld radio, listened carefully to the reply, then nodded at the man in the passenger seat, who was looking at him. That man patted the driver on the arm twice.

    In a few seconds, the vans turned into a service entrance. The inner moat had been filled in here, and the vehicles went through a narrow gate in the wall to a courtyard. A uniformed security officer in a glassed-in guardhouse watched the vehicles park. There were two armed officers by the gate and two by the door of the building. All four of them watched the passenger get out of the lead vehicle and walk over to the guardhouse.

    The security officer's little window was already open, apparently for ventilation.

    The passenger gave a polite bow, just a head bob. "We are the telephone repairmen. They told us to come this morning."

    "Identity cards, please."

    The passenger passed them over.

    "Yes. I have you on the list." The officer gave the cards back.

    "Where should we park?"

    "Near the door." He gestured vaguely. "There should be no conflicts. How long will your repairs take?"

    "I don't know. We will have to inspect the failure, ensure we have the proper equipment to repair it."

    "You must be out of the palace by four o'clock."

    "And if we cannot fix it by then?"

    "You will have to call the Imperial Household Agency, describe the problem, and make an appointment to return."

    "I understand. First, we must diagnose the problem. We have some test equipment to take inside."

    The security officer nodded and gestured to the two armed policemen standing near the door.

    It took a bit to get the vans parked and unloaded. One of the security officers went over and spoke for a moment to the man in the guardhouse while the telephone men checked their equipment. The four men each hoisted a share. One of the security officers held the door open for them, and another followed them inside.

    "I will show you where the problem is," he told the four, then took the lead. "The agency has a telephone technician on the staff. If you wish, I will have him summoned and he can tell you what he learned when he examined the system."

    "We may have to do that," the man who had been the passenger in the lead van said. "We will look first."

    They went up a staircase to the second floor and down a long corridor. They were inside an equipment room when the garroting wire went over the guard's head, startling him. The wire bit deeply into his neck before he could make a sound. He was struggling against the wire when one of the men, now in front of him, seized his head and twisted it so violently that his neck snapped.

    The repairmen took the guard's weight as he went limp. They placed the body in a corner of the room, out of sight of anyone who might come to the door, open it, and look in. The murder had taken no more than sixty seconds.

    The men picked up their equipment. Outside in the hallway, the passenger from the van ensured the door was completely shut and latched.

    Their rubber-soled shoes made no noise as the four men walked the marble corridors deeper and deeper into the huge palace.

    The bubbling, laughing children circled about the empress with carefree abandon. They giggled deliciously as they danced around her arm in arm on the manicured green lawn, among the shrubs and flowers growing riot in lush beds, under a bright sun shining down from a gentle blue sky, while temple bells chimed in the distance. Stately, measured, the bells proclaimed the beauty of an ordered universe.

    Emperor Naruhito was probably the only person to pay any attention to the chiming temple bells, which he thought the perfect musical accompaniment to the informal lawn ceremony in front of him. The children's bright, traditional dress contrasted sharply with the deep green grass and captured the eye as they circled around the empress, who was wearing a silk ivory-colored kimono trimmed with exquisite organdy. The other adults were removed a pace or two, ceding center stage to the empress and the happy children. The photographers shooting the scene stationed themselves ever so slightly out of the way. They were dressed in nondescript clothing, rarely moved, and, in the finest tradition of their profession, managed to fade into the scene almost like shadows.

    The natural world certainly had an innocent charm that human affairs lacked, the emperor mused bitterly. For weeks now he had been brooding upon the current political situation. The new prime minister, Atsuko Abe, seemed bent on forcing the nation onto a new course, a course that Emperor Naruhito regarded with a growing sense of horror.

    The Japanese political situation had been drifting to the right for years, the emperor thought as he watched the empress and the children. He reviewed the sequence yet again, trying to make sense of an avalanche of events that seemed beyond human control.

    Each government since the great bank collapse had lasted a short while, then was swept from office and replaced by one even more reactionary. As the emperor saw it, the problem was that politicians were not willing to tell the Japanese people the truth. Their island nation was small, overpopulated, and lacked natural resources. The prosperity of the post-World War II era was built on turning imported raw materials into manufactured products and selling them to the American market at prices American manufacturers could not compete with. Japan's price advantage rested on low labor costs, which eventually disappeared. Sky-high real estate and hyperinflated stock values fell sickeningly as Japan's economic edge evaporated. The government propped up the overextended banking system for a while, but finally it collapsed, nearly bankrupting the government. Then tensions in the Mideast rose to the flash point and the Arabs cut off the sale of oil to force the developed world to pressure Israel.

    The oil was flowing once again, but the damage was done. Japan found it could not afford Mideast oil at any price. The yen was essentially worthless, the banking system in ruins, huge industrial enterprises couldn't pay their bills, and disillusioned workers had been laid off in droves.

    Maybe the Japanese were doomed. The emperor had moments when cold anxieties seized his heart, and he had one such now.

    Perhaps they were all doomed. To be led into the outer darkness by a poisonous ultranationalist like Atsuko Abe, a demagogue preaching against the evils of foreign values and foreign institutions while extolling the virtues of the ancient Japanese nation--was this the Japanese destiny? Was this what the nation had come to?

    Ah ... Japan, ancient yet young, fertile yet pure and unspoiled, home for the select of mankind, the Japanese.

    If that Japan had ever existed, it was long gone, yet today Abe waved the racial memory like a flag before a dispirited, once-proud people betrayed by everything they trusted. Betrayed, Abe claimed, by Western democracy. Betrayed by bureaucrats. Betrayed by captains of industry ... betrayed by capitalism, an import from a foreign culture....

    Japan, Abe thundered, had been betrayed by a people who refused to hold its values dear, the Japanese. They were guilty. And they would have to pay the price.

    All of this was political rhetoric. It inflamed half-wits and foreigners and gave newspapers much to editorialize about, but it was only hot air, spewed by Abe and his friends to distance themselves from other, more traditional politicians, and to win votes, which it did. Only when he was firmly ensconced in the prime minister's office, with the reins of power in his hands, did Atsuko Abe began to discuss his true agenda with his closest allies.

    Friends of the emperor whispered to him of Abe's ambitions, because they were deeply troubled. Abe's proclamations, they said, were more than rhetoric. He fully intended to make Japan a world power, to do "whatever was required."

    Naruhito, always conscious of the fact that the post-World War II constitution limited the throne to strictly ceremonial duties, held his tongue. Still, the burden of history weighed oppressively upon him.

    A personal letter from the president of the United States shattered Naruhito's private impasse. "I am deeply concerned," the President said, "that the Japanese government is considering a military solution to aggravating regional and economic problems, a solution that will rupture the peace of the region and may well trigger worldwide conflagration. Such a calamity would have enormous, tragic implications for every human on this planet. As heads of state, we owe our countrymen and our fellow citizens of the planet our best efforts to ensure such an event never occurs."

    There was more. Naruhito read the letter with a sense of foreboding. The president of the United States knew more about the political situation in Japan than he, the emperor, did. Obviously, the president got better information.

    Near the end of the letter, the president said, "We believe the Abe administration plans an invasion of Siberia to secure a permanent, stable oil supply. The recent appeals of the indigenous Siberian people for Japanese aid in their revolt against the Russians are a mere pretext orchestrated by the Abe government. I fear such an invasion might trigger a world war, the like of which this planet has never seen. A third world war, one more horrible than any conflict yet waged by man, may bring civilization to a tragic end, throwing the world into a new dark age, one from which our species may never recover."

    Here, in writing, were the words that expressed the horror the emperor felt as he observed the domestic political situation. Even though he lacked the specific information that the president of the United States had, Naruhito also felt that he was watching the world he knew slide slowly and inexorably toward a horrible doom.

    "I am writing you personally," the president concluded, "to ask for your help. We owe it to mankind to preserve the rule of law for future generations. Our worldwide civilization is not perfect; it is a work in progress, made better by every person who obeys the laws and works for his daily bread, thereby contributing to the common good. Civilization is the human heritage, the birthright of all who will come after us."

    Naruhito asked the prime minister to call.

    Although the emperor had met Atsuko Abe on several occasions since he had become prime minister, he had never before had the opportunity to speak privately with him. Always, there were aides around, functionaries, security people. This time, it was just the two of them, in the emperor's private study.

    After the polite preliminaries, the emperor mentioned the letter and gave Abe a copy to read.

    Atsuko Abe was unsure how to proceed or just what to say. A private audience with the emperor was an extraordinary honor, one that left him somewhat at a loss for words. Yet this letter ... He knew the Americans had spies--spies and political enemies were everywhere.

    "Your Highness, we are at a critical juncture in our nation's history," Atsuko Abe said, feeling his way. "The disruption of our oil supply was the final straw. It wrecked the economy. Japan is in ruins; millions are out of work. We must repair the damage and ensure it never happens again."

    "Is it true?" the emperor asked, waving the letter. "Is your government planning an invasion of Siberia?"

    "Your Excellency, we have received a humanitarian appeal from the native Siberian people, who are seeking to throw off the Russian yoke. Surely you have been briefed on this development. The justice of their situation is undeniable. Their appeal is quite compelling."

    "You are evasive, sir. Now is the time for speaking the blunt truth, not polite evasion."

    Abe was astounded. Never had he seen the emperor like this, nor imagined he could be like this.

    "The time has come for Japan to assume its rightful place in the world," the prime minister said.

    "Which is?"

    "A superpower," Abe said confidently. He stared boldly at the emperor, who averted his eyes from the challenge on Abe's face.

    Then, ashamed, he forced himself to look the prime minister in the eye. "Is it true?" the emperor asked obstinately. "Does Japan plan to invade Siberia?"

    "Our hour has come," Abe replied firmly. "We are a small island nation, placed by the gods beside a growing Chinese giant. We must have oil."

    "But you have signed an agreement with the Russians! They will sell us oil."

    "That, Your Excellency, is precisely the problem. As long as we are buying Russian oil, we are at their mercy. Japan must have its own resources."

    The son of an industrialist, Atsuko Abe had spent the first two decades of his adult life in the Japanese Self-Defense Force, the military. Although he was selected for flag rank, he left at an early age and obtained a post in the defense ministry. There Abe made friends with politicians across the spectrum, rose in influence, won promotion after promotion. Finally, he left the bureaucracy and ran for a seat in the Diet, which he won handily. He had been there for almost ten years, surfing the political riptides that surged through the capital.

    He was ready now, at sixty-two years of age. This was his moment.

    The emperor refused to look away. "Our hour? How dare you? This nation has never been in a shadow. Our way of life is honorable; we have kept faith with our ancestors. Our nation has made mistakes in the past, for which our people have paid dearly, but our honor is unstained. We need no hour of conquest, no triumph of violence, no blood on our hands."

    "You are born to your position," Abe said bitterly. "What do you know of struggle, of triumph?"

    The emperor fought to maintain his composure. "Russia has nuclear weapons, which the Russians might use to defend themselves. Have you the right to risk the very life of this nation?"

    "We are in a grave crisis, Your Excellency."

    "Don't patronize me, Prime Minister."

    Abe bowed. When he straightened, he said, "Forgive me, Excellency. The fact you do not know is that Japan also is a nuclear power. I am convinced that Russia will not risk nuclear war to retain a wasteland that has never earned her a single yen of profit."

    The emperor sat stunned. "Japan has nuclear weapons?" he whispered.


    "How? How were these weapons developed and manufactured?"

    "With the greatest secrecy. Obviously." The manufacture of these weapons was Abe's greatest triumph, a program reluctantly agreed to by politicians watching their world collapse, then accomplished under a security blanket worthy of Joseph Stalin.

    "The government did this without the consent of the Diet? Without the knowledge and consent of the Japanese people? In violation of the constitution and the laws?"

    Abe merely bowed his head.

    "What if you are wrong about Russia?" the emperor demanded. "Answer me that. What if Russia retaliates with nuclear weapons?"

    "The risk is as great for Russia as it is for Japan, and Russia has less at stake."

    "They may not see the equation as you do, Prime Minister."

    Abe said nothing.

    The emperor was too astonished to go further. The man is mad, he thought. The prime minister has gone completely mad.

    After a bit, the emperor recovered his voice sufficiently to ask, "What do you suggest I tell the president of the United States in answer to his letter?"

    Abe made an irritated gesture. "Ignore it. No answer is necessary, Your Excellency. The president does not know his place."

    Naruhito shook his head ponderously from side to side. "My grandfather, Hirohito, received a letter from President Roosevelt on the eve of World War Two, pleading for peace. Hirohito did not answer that letter. He refused to intervene with the government. All my life, I have wondered how history might have been different had my grandfather spoken up for what he believed."

    "Emperor Hirohito believed that the government was acting in the nation's best interests."

    "Perhaps he did. I am not convinced that your government is now."

    Abe shook himself. He had come too far, endured too much. He faced the emperor like a sumo wrestler. "The government must speak for you, and the nation, which are the same. That is the law."

    "Do not speak to me of law. Not after what you have told me."

    Abe pounded his chest. "You reign, I rule. That is the Japanese way."

    Abe took several deep breaths to compose himself. "If you will give me a copy of the letter, I will have the foreign minister prepare a reply."

    The emperor didn't seem to hear. He continued, thinking aloud: "In this era of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, war is obsolete. It is no longer a viable political option. The nation that plunges headlong into war in the twenty-first century will, I fear, merely be committing national suicide. Death, sir, is most definitely not Japan's destiny. Death is final and eternal, whether it comes slowly, from natural causes, or swiftly, in a spectacular blaze of glory. Life, sir, must be our business. Life is our concern."

    Before Abe could think of a polite reply, the emperor added softly, "You carry a very heavy burden, Prime Minister. You carry the hopes and dreams of every Japanese alive today and those of our honored ancestors. You literally carry Japan upon your back."

    "Your Excellency, I am aware of my responsibilities," Atsuko Abe retorted, as politely as he could. He struggled to keep a grip on his temper. "Keenly aware," he added through clenched teeth.

    "In your public speeches that I have read, sir, you speak as if Japan's destiny were as obvious as the rising sun on a clear morning," Emperor Naruhito said without rancor. "I suggest you consult the representatives of the people in the Diet before you make any major commitments."

    He could think of nothing else to say to this fool facing him....

    "Follow the law," the emperor added. That was always excellent advice, but ...

    "The Japanese are a great people," the emperor told the prime minister, to fill the silence. "If you keep faith with them, they will have faith in you."

    Abe forced his head down in a gesture of respect. The skin on his head was tan, the hair cropped short.

    Naruhito could stand no more of this scoundrel. He rose stiffly, bowed, and walked from the room.

    That had been two days ago.

    Naruhito had forsaken his ceremonial, almost-mystical position as head of state to speak the truth as he believed it, for the good of the nation. He had never done that before, but Abe ... advocating the unthinkable ... telling the emperor to his face what his duty was--never in his life had Naruhito been so insulted. The memory of Abe's words still burned deeply.

    He had written a letter to the president of the United States, written it by hand because he did not wish to trust a secretary.

    The truth was bitter: He could not affect events.

    The children were singing now, led by Naruhito's wife, Masako. A flush of warmth went through the emperor as he regarded her, his dearly beloved wife, his empress, singing softly, leading the children.

    Truly, he loved life. Loved his wife, his people, his nation ... this Japanese nation. His life, the nation's life, they were all bound up together, one and inseparable. A profound sense of loss swept over him. Time is running out....

    Captain Shunko Kato stood concealed by a curtain at a second-floor window in the Imperial Palace, watching the ceremony on the lawn below. Behind him stood the other three erstwhile telephone repairmen, his men, standing motionless, seemingly at perfect ease. They weren't, Kato knew. He could feel the tension, tight as a violin string. Military discipline held them motionless, silent, each man in communion only with his thoughts.

    The sunlight coming through the window made a lopsided rectangle on the floor. Kato looked at the sunlit floor, the great frame that held the window, the hedge, the lawn, the people, the bold, brazen sky above....

    He was seeing all this for the last time. Ah, but to dwell on his personal fate was unworthy. Kato brushed the thought away and concentrated on the figures before him on the lawn.

    There was the emperor, shorter than the average Japanese male at five feet four, erect, carrying a tummy. Surrounding the group were security officers in civilian clothes--most of these men had their backs to the ceremony.

    Kato retreated a few inches. He ensured he was concealed by the shadow of the drape, hidden from the observation of anyone on the lawn who might look at this window. Satisfied, he scanned the security guards quickly, taking in their state of alertness at a glance; then he turned his attention back to the royal party.

    The emperor stood slightly in front of a group of officials, watching the empress and the children, seemingly caught up in the simple ritual. No doubt he was. He certainly had nothing else to worry about. The emperor, Kato was sure, was quite oblivious to the desperation that had ravaged so many lives since the bank collapse. How could it be otherwise? The emperor certainly didn't move in ordinary circles.

    Yet the man must read newspapers, occasionally watch television. How could he miss the corruption of the politicians, the bribes, the influence peddling, the stench of scandal after scandal? Could he not see the misery of the common people, always loyal, always betrayed?

    He never spoke out against corruption, avarice, greed. Never. And never condemning, he silently approved.

    Kato felt his chest swelling with indignation. Oh, that they called such a man "Son of Heaven!" An extraordinary obscenity.

    The empress was saying good-bye to the children. The ceremony was ending.

    Kato turned, surveyed his men. Still wearing the blue jumpers and caps of the telephone company, they were as fit as professional athletes, lean, with ropy muscles and easy, fluid movements. Kato had trained them, hardened them, made them soldiers in the Bushido tradition. In truth, he was proud of them, and now that pride showed on his face. The men looked back at him with faces that were also unable to conceal their emotion.

    "For Japan," he said softly, just loudly enough for them to hear.

    "For Japan." Their lips moved soundlessly, for he had told them to make no sound. Still, the reply echoed in Kato's ears.

    "Banzai," he mouthed.

    "Banzai!" The silent reply lashed his soul.

    The security guards escorted the emperor and empress toward the door of the Imperial Palace. One of them held it open for the emperor, who always preceded his wife by two paces. The security men did not enter the hallway; they remained outside. The entire palace was inside a security zone.

    Inside the building, away from other eyes, the emperor paused to let Masako reach his side. She flashed him a grin, a very un-Japanese gesture, but then she had spent years in the United States attending college before their marriage. He dearly enjoyed seeing her grin, and he smiled his pleasure.

    She took his arm and leaned forward, so that her lips brushed his cheek. His smile broadened.

    Arm in arm, they walked down the hall to the end, then turned right.

    Four men stood silently, waiting. They blocked the hallway.

    The emperor stopped.

    One of the men moved noiselessly to position himself behind the royal couple, but the others did not give way. Nor, the emperor noted with surprise, did they bow. Not even the tiniest bob.

    Naruhito looked from face to face. Not one of the men broke eye contact.

    "Yes?" he said finally.

    "Your wife may leave, Your Excellency," said one of the men. His voice was strong, even, yet not loud.

    "Who are you?" asked the emperor.

    "I am Captain Shunko Kato of the Japanese Self-Defense Force." Kato bowed deeply from the waist, but none of the other men moved a muscle. "These enlisted men are under my command."

    "By whose authority are you here?"

    "By our own."

    Naruhito felt his wife's hand tighten on his arm. He looked again from face to face, waiting for them to look away as a gesture of respect. None of them did.

    "Why are you here?" the emperor asked finally. He realized that time was on his side, not theirs, and he wished to draw this out as long as possible.

    Kato seemed to read his thoughts. "We are here for Japan," Kato said crisply, then added, "The empress must leave now."

    Naruhito could read the inevitable in their faces. Although the thought did not occur to Captain Kato, Naruhito had as much courage as any man there. He turned toward the empress.

    "You must go, dear wife."

    She stared into his face, panic-stricken. Both her hands clutched his arm in a fierce grip.

    He leaned toward her and whispered, "We have no choice. Go, and know I love you."

    She tore her eyes from him and swept them around the group, looking directly into the eyes of each man. Three of them averted their gaze.

    Then she turned and walked back toward the lawn.

    From a decorative table nearby, Kato took a samurai sword, which the emperor had not previously noticed. With one swift motion, the officer withdrew the blade from the sheath.

    "For Japan," he said, grasping the handle with both hands.

    The sword was very old, the emperor noticed. Hundreds of years old. His heart was audibly pounding in his ears. He looked again at each face. They were fanatics.

    Resigned, Emperor Naruhito sank to his knees. He would not let them see him afraid. Thank heavens his hands were not trembling. He closed his eyes and cleared his thoughts. Enough of these zealots. He thought of his wife and his son and daughter.

    The last thing he heard was the slick whisper of the blade whirring through the air.

    Masako walked slowly toward the door where just seconds ago she and her husband had entered the palace. Every step was torture, agony....

    The men were assassins.

    Masako, in her horror, had sensed it the moment she saw them. They had no respect; their faces registered extraordinary tension--not like loyal subjects meeting their emperor and his wife, but like assassins.

    She knew her nation's history, of course, knew how assassins had plagued rulers and politicians in times of turmoil, how they always murdered for Japan--as if their passionate patriotism could excuse the blood, could excuse slashing the life from men who had little or no control over the events that fired the murderers--then atoned for their crimes in orgies of ritual suicide.

    The bloody melodrama was terrible theater, yet most Japanese loved it, reveled in it, were inspired by it. Ancient racial memories were renewed with flowing fresh red blood. New sacrifices propitiated savage urges ... and mesmerized the audience.

    Patriotic murder was sadistic, Masako thought, an obscene perversion that surfaced when the world pressed relentlessly in upon the Japanese, as it had in the 1930s, as it had in December 1941, as it apparently was ...


    She could scarcely place one foot in front of another.

    Oh, Naruhito, beloved husband, that we should have to face this ... and I should not be at your side....

    She turned and hurried back toward her husband. Toward the evil that awaited them both.

    She ran, the length of her stride constrained by her skirt.

    Just before she reached the corner, she heard the singing of the sword and then the sickening thunk as it bit into flesh.

    She turned the corner in time to see her husband's head rolling along the floor and his upright torso toppling forward.

    She saw no more. Despite her pain--or perhaps because of it--she passed out, collapsed in a heap.

    Shunko Kato did not look again at the emperor's corpse. There was little time, and staring at the body of a man who had failed Japan would be wasting it.

    He arranged a letter on the table where the sword had rested. The letter was written in blood, the blood of each man there, and they had all signed it.

    For Japan.

    Kato knelt and drew his knife. He looked at his chief NCO, who was standing beside him, his pistol in his hand. "Banzai," he said.


    Kato stabbed the knife to the hilt in his own stomach.

    The sergeant raised his pistol and shot Kato in the back of the head. Blood and brains flew from the captain's head. The sound of the shot made a stupendous thunderclap in the hallway. In the silence that followed, he could hear the tinny sound of the spent cartridge skittering across the floor.

    Air escaping from the captain's body made an audible sound, but the sergeant was paying no attention.

    He looked at his comrades. They, too, had their pistols out.

    Brave men, doing what had to be done.

    The sergeant took a deep breath, then raised the barrel of his pistol to his own head. The others did the same. The sergeant inadvertently squeezed his eyes shut just before he pulled the trigger.

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, June 9th, welcomed Stephen Coonts to discuss FORTUNES OF WAR.

Moderator: Good evening, and welcome, Stephen Coonts! We are glad to have you with us tonight. Before we begin, do you have any opening comments for your online readers?

Stephen Coonts: No, I hope they ask some good questions!

Will from Wilmington, Delaware: Good to see you online, Mr. Coonts! I love all your books! Tell me, how do you stay up to date on your military detail

Stephen Coonts: Research and asking questions of people who know the answers.

George from Lake Placid, NY: Just looking at your new book, I couldn't help but notice that it involves three heroes from three different countries -- the US, Russia and Japan. Did you intend that the three heroes come from countries that have at some point during the 20th Century been considered military enemies?

Stephen Coonts: Yes. That was the whole idea of the book! In this book, Russia is America's friend, a juxtaposition of the Cold War alignments of the last 40 years. I hope the readers find this of interest.

Rich Greenleaf from Wichita, KS: Where did you first get the idea for FORTUNES OF WAR? Do you get your ideas for your plots from the newspapers?

Stephen Coonts: Current events, and noodling about possible plots that would play to my strength as a writer. Every writer tries to pick balls they can hit out of the park, in other words, they try to write about themes they can handle well.

Pearl from Boston, MA: I am going to ask a speculative history question if that is OK...what do you foresee for the world's future now that we don't have a real bi-polar planet? "Fortunes of War?"

Stephen Coonts: I think that increasingly the conflicts of hte future will be between the "haves" and the "have-nots," societies that have a stake in the world as it is and those who don't.

Jackson from Jackson Hole, WY: Are you still flying? What sort of plane do you fly?

Stephen Coonts: The answer is yes, my wife and I own four airplanes, and we cage rides in anything else we can.

Jimbo from Santa Fe, NM: Hi, Steve! Your novels are A-1 for suspense! Thanks for such a consistently great output of books! Tell me, what is the most important thing to remember when you are writing books like yours? How do you know you can keep your readers on the edges of their seats?

Stephen Coonts: Suspense is built of pacing, interesting characters, and action-adventure situations. But the key is to pace the story properly, or all suspense is lost.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: Do you write to a military audience? Who do you intend as your target audience? Or do you not even think about this?

Stephen Coonts: My target audience are literate people with an interest in world affairs, technology, and the lives of other people different from themselves.

Garth from Key West, FL: Did you write while you were flying in the Navy? When did you discover that it was what you wanted to do?

Stephen Coonts: We'll say I started writing flying sequences in 1973 while on active duty. This was not a novel because I didn't have a plot. It wasn't until the early eighties that I thought up a plot for my flying story, and in 1984, I sat down to write it after a divorce. It turned into FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER. I discovered it was what I wanted to do when I found out I could make a living at it.

Pearl from Boston, MA: Me again...who do see as some "have-nots?"

Stephen Coonts: I would say third world, the Muslims, who find the changes necessary to survive in modern society very threatening to their way of life. The Palestinians, who feel that the world ignores their plight, and the starving and hungry everywhere.

Marius from San Francisco, CA: What sort of research did you have to do to write this novel? Do you find your info online? Also, have you ever travelled to Siberia?

Stephen Coonts: I flew the F-22 cockpit concept demonstrator, a non-motion simulator, at the Lockheed Martin Facility in Marietta, Georgia. I also did a lot of reserach in reference books and read books about stealth fighters and books about the future of military aviation. I also asked questions of experienced fighter pilots, and had them read the manuscript. The second answer is no, I have not been to Siberia. I did go to Japan for this book.

Gunther B. from Brooklyn, NY: It seems as if this book is not only suspense-filled, but also emotionally charged -- you really care about characters like Cassidy, Kimura and Saratov! What was it like to weave this element into your novel? Was this novel more difficult to write than your previous novels?

Stephen Coonts: The answer is I care about all the characters I write in all seven of my published novels, so it was no more difficult in that regard. It was difficult getting the right mix between geo-politics and action-adventure. And so, the book was rewritten three times, and took two and a half years to write.

Justin from Walpole, MA: Tell us about your military history -- how did you first become a naval aviator? Did you always want to do that, or did you come to it by default?

Stephen Coonts: I joined the Navy to avoid the draft in 1965. On college graduation in 1968 I went to flight school. No one becomes an aviator by default. The training is arduous, and people are washed out at every phase. Some are killed. Some just quit. I wanted it bad enough, and hung in there, so I got to have the thrill of being shot at over North Vietnam. If you want it bad, you'll get it bad.

Paul from College Park, MD: Have you ever been involved in active arial combat as described in your books? How does writing about it compare with the real thing?

Stephen Coonts: I was an attack pilot flying A-6 Intruders on two combat cruises from the deck of the USS Enterprise. My combat experience was air-to-ground. In training, I got to fly in simulated dog-fights. I believe all that gives me a feel for the emotions of aerial combat, which is what I am trying to capture in my fiction.

Omar from Brooklyn, NY: Are you doing any readings in the New York area?

Stephen Coonts: No, I've already made all the appearances for this book that I will make in New York.

Sandi from Pheonix, AZ: This book seems to be less a nuts and bolts military drama than it is a book about torn loyalties between the men who fight in them... Is this true? Is this what you intended when you set out to write it?

Stephen Coonts: Well, I think the answer is you are very perceptive, that is what I intended to write. The book is designed to be a story about the last warriors who have conflicted loyalties in a world that has become inter-dependent.

Ken from Vermont: Hello Stephen! What do you think about the current military fiction being published? Do you think there is a downfall in quality or do you think it is as strong as ever?

Stephen Coonts: I don't know if I want to touch that one!! But my stories are, I hope, as good as I can do! You will have to be the judge about other people's stuff.

Harlan from Texas: Do you base your characters on real people you knew in the Military?

Stephen Coonts: I used to, but any more they are almost pure creations of my imagination. Now, I see them as I want them to be. from xx: Do you even read your book reviews? Do you listen to what reviewers have to say about your books? What about fans?

Stephen Coonts: Well, the answer is, I wish I had the moral character to ignore critics, but I don't. I read every review, all fan mail and email, and try to answer every letter or email that seems to call for an answer. The website is, and you are invited to look at it for explanations of my personal biography and the stories that I have written, as well as some nifty pictures.

Matt from NYC: Hi, Steve! Do you ever miss the action of a military career, vs. the quiet life of a writer?

Stephen Coonts: No, I had the action of life as a law student and lawyer. So, I enjoy being my own boss.

Jonas from Trenton, NJ: Hey, what do you think of hte movie version of UNDER SEIGE? Are there any other movie plans in the works?

Stephen Coonts: "Under Seige", the movie, was not made from my book. The book preceded the movie by about two years. The movie producers helped themselves to my title. Titles, by the way, cannot be copyrighted.

Nelson from Fairfield, CT: Do you think your military experience has helped you in writing accurate depictions of action scenes?

Stephen Coonts: Well, the answer to that is yes. I think every beginning writer should write about what they know. It's a rule a beginner violates to his peril.

Michael from Ft. VCollins, CO: How realistic scenario did you portray in this book? Do you ever think something like this could ever happen?

Stephen Coonts: The answer is I think it has happened in the past. I think economic chaos and incompetent governments lead to dictatorships and foreign military advernturing. Germany, Japan, in the '30's are classic examples.

Ronald from Aurora, CO: So what contemporary authors do you read? Clancy? Dale Brown?

Stephen Coonts: That's a loaded question. When I am writing, I read mainly history. It's not good for the ego to struggle for eight hours to get 1,000 words and then pick up a book in the same genre where the author did it so effortlessly.

Rick from Cleveland, OH: I love the you have a lot of input on the final cover?

Stephen Coonts: No. Occasionally, I get to make an input, but not with this cover, which was presented as a fait accompli.

Pete from Studio City, CA: How come we haven't seen any of your books in movie form? When are the deals gonna take place?

Stephen Coonts: FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER was made into a movie, and did poorly at the box office, probably due to the fact it was released on the night America invaded Iraq. Everybody stayed home and watched real war on CNN. The next five books feature Jake Grafton, the hero of FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER, and so the producer passed on all of them. With new characters, it is possible that Hollywood may pick up another of my books ,but it hasn't happened yet.

Muntz from Are you on the internet a lot? What do you think about it as new form of technology?

Stephen Coonts: I think the Internet is where the telephone system was in 1898. What it will become is beyond our wildest imaginings.

Jess from Bellingham, WA: any more non-fcition due? i really liked "war in the air." Any chance we can see your military years brought to the page?

Stephen Coonts: We may well do a fiction anthology in a couple of years, and I'd someday like to do a follow-on to the nonfiction book THE CANNIBAL QUEEN. My focus right now, though, is on novels.

Colonel from Nebraska: What are you working on now?

Stephen Coonts: Well, the book that we hope to publish in May 1999 is a what-if book set in this hemisphere. My publisher does not want me to reveal anything else at this time. Watch my web site for updates on this book in the year ahead.

Moderator: Thank you, Stephen Coonts! Do you have any final comments for the online audience?

Stephen Coonts: Read more books!

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2003

    Not the Best

    Steven Coonts did a fairly good job on Fortunes of War. The introduction really caught my attention. The middle lost me though, because Coonts kept switching back and forth between the F-22 jets and the submarine attacks. I also think the book had too many characters. The characters that did stand out were somewhat realistic. The main characters Coonts uses in Fortunes of War come from the three countries that are at war. The first person we hear about is Bob Cassidy. Bob is an Air Force Academy graduate, and is the leader of the F-22 division. Next, is Jiro Kimura, he is also an Air Force Academy graduate of the same year as Cassidy. They both know each other very well. Kimura, even though he is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, is fighting in the ¿Zero¿s.¿ The ¿Zero¿ is Japans newest fighter. It has ANTENA technology, which makes it invisible to radar. The third character is Pavel Saratov; he is a Captain in charge of a Russian submarine. The plot in this book is not very realistic. Fortunes of War is set in 2008. It starts out with three Japanese nationalists dressed up as Telephone mechanics invading the Palace, and beheading the Emperor. Japan wants to conquer the oil rich Siberia; which would be key to conquering the World. The Russians are defending it, but because of their weak economy, and lack of military strength, they have to get the United States to help them. The USAF gives Russia ten F-22¿s with no American markings, to help fight the Japanese ¿Zeros.¿ Overall, Fortunes of War is a fairly good book that kept my attention through a good ¾ of it. Coonts could really work on the realism of this book. For instance, Russia is a third world country basically in this book. It has a very weak economy, and doesn¿t have enough money to pay its soldiers. The strong point of this book is its captivity. The first chapter is a good example. Right at the start three Japanese nationalists murder the Emperor. What could be better than that? In conclusion, this book is an OK book. It has its ups and its downs. You probably have to read it a couple times to really understand it. If you have a night or too to sit down and read this book, I suggest that you do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2000

    Mr Coonts' Best Yet

    I've read all of Stephen Coonts books and this was his best yet. The action is superb.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 16, 2013

    couldn't put it down!

    Excellent read, well thought out and put together for those of us that are used to reading Stephen Coonts stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    Good book

    I enjoyed the book. It was typical Stephen Coonts. If you like his work then you will like this one to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2012

    Good stufff Good stuff

    Could not stop reading

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011

    Good read.

    Some errors, but overall I enjoyed the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2003

    The Best!

    This is the second Stephen Coonts' book I've read and it is better then America (1st book),I enjooy MR. Coonts very much, and look forward to reading more of his books, such as " Liberty".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2003

    A very good take on the Russo-Japanese War.

    From reading Fortunes of War, I sort of liked it. It was a pretty good take on the Russo-Japanese War. It featured viewpoints from three sides: the Americans, the Russians, and the Japanese. This makes an excellent story of an ultimate war that mixes a real-life with military details that were state-of-the-art. Fortunes of War will lead the reader through a wild goose chase in three different countries with scenes of air, land, and sea battles that are dramatic. I would recommend this book to anyone who's into books of war or fans of the other Stephen Coonts novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2000

    Supersonic Thriller!

    This was my first read of a Coonts novel and I really enjoyed it. Like Clancey, Stephen puts you in the arena of high tech war from multiple points of view but without the intricate detail of every useable device. The only let down I felt the novel had was, the lack of a few more twists and turns in the plot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2000

    Just started and I can't beleive the action!

    I am only up to page 180 and this has been one of the best books in the world. It was my first novel I read by Steven Coonts. This is full of action. If you are an action type of person, youw will not be disappointed. Coonts displays the war feeling excellent!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 1999

    Very God

    Very good i coulnt but it down very good

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

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