The Special Prisoner

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Overview

John Quincy Watson was a young bomber pilot flying the new B-29 Superfortress in a mission over Japan when he was shot down and taken prisoner. Designated a "special prisoner," as were all Allied airmen, he, along with his comrades, suffered and almost indescribably brutal POW experience under a vicious camp commandant that Watson, with his friends, dubs the "the Hyena." When a chance encounter years after the war brings Watson, now Bishop Watson, into contact with a man he believes to be the Hyena, the Bishop ...

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Overview

John Quincy Watson was a young bomber pilot flying the new B-29 Superfortress in a mission over Japan when he was shot down and taken prisoner. Designated a "special prisoner," as were all Allied airmen, he, along with his comrades, suffered and almost indescribably brutal POW experience under a vicious camp commandant that Watson, with his friends, dubs the "the Hyena." When a chance encounter years after the war brings Watson, now Bishop Watson, into contact with a man he believes to be the Hyena, the Bishop must struggle with an anger and a desire for vengeance he thought he had long put aside. The Special Prisoner is a taut and dramatic novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
From best-selling author Lehrer comes a work about an American soldier's harrowing wartime experience in Japan.
Iris Chang
Riveting...I couldn't put this book down! The Special Prisoner delves into the full complexity of human evil and revenge.
Stephen E. Ambrose
[A] tribute to the men who endured and prevailed over the worst existence imaginable.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in his previous novel, White Widow, the plot of newscaster-writer Lehrer's newest book turns on a chance encounter. In this case the pivotal meeting is between retired Methodist Bishop John Quincy Watson of San Antonio, Tex., an elderly ex-B-29 pilot and POW, and a Japanese businessman in whose eyes Watson sees the stare of the interrogator who tortured him. Incredulous that his old nemesis could have survived, Watson nevertheless discovers that the stranger has checked into a San Diego hotel under the interrogator's last name, and he decides to confront him. Mr. Tashimoto, however, denies he is the former camp official his prisoners nicknamed "the Hyena" because of his sadistic laugh. With this tension-filled standoff underway, Lehrer suspensefully alternates between Watson's harrowing memories of WWII and his present-day cat-and-mouse interrogation with the roles reversed. The first half of the narrative is a provocative, at times wrenching, dramatization of racism, war crimes and revenge--with right not necessarily on Watson's side--but the second is deprived of much of its drive when Watson tragically loses control of the situation and is brought to trial for his violent behavior. Although the ending does not satisfactorily resolve the moral ambiguity of its tantalizing premise, Lehrer's novel successfully illuminates still-sensitive issues for both the U.S. and Japan. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
The title of Lehrer's 14th book, a harrowing novel of redemption and revenge, refers to the designation the Japanese gave to captured U.S. airmen, for whom they reserved the most horrific torture. In alternating chapters, the first half of the novel ricochets between John Quincy Watson's World War II experiences as a B-29 bomber pilot and (mostly) Japanese POW and his present-day encounter--he is a retired Methodist bishop--with the man he knew as his Japanese torturer, Tashimoto. The second part of the novel, a trial, condemns both the brutality of Japanese treatment of POWs and the U.S. bombing attacks on Japan, along with lingering U.S. racism against the Japanese. While the lean prose and fast pace mean that some of the men in the prison camp are too sketchily drawn for us to care about them, both Watson and his friend Henry Howell are fully realized. Lehrer offers no easy answers in this gripping, sorrowful story that moves well beyond the satire that characterizes his earlier works. Recommended, especially where World War II novels are popular. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/00; for an interview with Lehrer, see p. 199.--Ed.]--Francine Fialkoff, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Sean Kevin Fitzpatrick
The title refers to a shot-down American airman who was taken prisoner during World War II. John Philip Watson endured the horrors of torture and humiliation, and this concise powerhouse of a novel begins with Watson's sixty-second year, during which he has retired as the Methodist bishop of San Antonio. His tightly reconstructed life begins to unwind, though, as he sees his primary torturer, known as "The Hyena," while changing planes in Dallas. Lehrer is a newsman, novelist and arguably one of the best news anchors on television. His news training gives him a fine instinct for story and an ability to edit out anything that does not advance it. Lehrer provides us with a concentrated dose of a world we have never known but which we now see with blinding brightness. This is a fast and moving read with the texture of authenticity.
Kirkus Reviews
A near-miss about man's inhumanity to man—in war and then in peace. He's become the much respected, almost revered, now retired Bishop Quincy Watson of Boston, but 50 years ago he flew a B29 that rained firebombs on Tokyo until the Japanese shot him down. Though he survived the crash, Quincy spent much of the time that followed wishing he hadn't. Fliers, especially bomber pilots, were viewed with maximum hostility by their captors. Quincy found himself labeled a `special prisoner,` a category the Japanese reserved for war criminals. Degraded, tortured, threatened daily with death and worse, he was one of a minuscule number of special prisoners who managed to live through the experience. At the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, on an otherwise ordinary day, his glance happens to connect with someone else's. Seconds later, that man is lost in the airport crowd, but Quincy is certain he's recognized the eyes (`two dark brown lasers`) belonging to his former chief tormentor, Japanese Lieutenant Tashimoto. Quincy goes on a hunt, traces his prey to a hotel in San Diego, and confronts the man in his room. Tashimoto denies everything he's accused of, insists the two have never met and that during the war the US, not Japan, behaved like an outlaw nation. Quincy calls him a liar on all counts. Hate regenerated is as implacable as ever. It explodes into sudden violence, the long-term ramifications of which are tragic and embittering. PBS news anchor Lehrer, now a veteran novelist (Purple Dots, 1998, etc.), attempts a morality tale here. The result, unfortunately, is frustratingly elusive. The POW scenes are riveting, but the plotting, particularly the denouement, seems wrenched to fit a fixedidea,making the tale hard to believe and the seeming morality hard to track.Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586480424
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/10/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST PUBLIC
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 0.54 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer began his career as a newspaper reporter, political columnist, and editor in Dallas, Texas. Since 1975, he has been a news anchor at PBS, where he is currently the anchor and executive director of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Lehrer has won numerous awards for journalism, including most recently the 1999 National Humanities Medal.

Biography

Jim Lehrer didn't always aspire to be a writer -- when he was 16, he wanted to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since he wasn't a very good baseball player, he turned to sports writing, then writing in general. As a member of what he's called "the Hemingway generation," he decided to support himself as a newspaper writer until he could make a living as a novelist.

After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, Lehrer served for three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, then began his career as a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in Dallas. His first novel, about a band of Mexican soldiers re-taking the Alamo, was published in 1966 and made into a movie. Lehrer quit his newspaper job in order to write more books, but was lured back into reporting after he accepted a part-time consulting job at the Dallas public television station. He was eventually made host and editor of a nightly news program at the station.

Lehrer then moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as public affairs coordinator for PBS and as a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT). At NPACT, Lehrer teamed up with Robert MacNeil to provide live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, broadcast on PBS. It was the beginning of a partnership that would last more than 20 years, as Lehrer and MacNeil co-hosted The MacNeil/Lehrer Report (originally The Robert MacNeil Report) from 1976 to 1983, and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour from 1983 to 1995. In 1995, MacNeil left the show, but Lehrer soldiered on as solo anchor and executive editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

When he wasn't busy hosting the country's first hour-long news program, Lehrer wrote and published books, including a series of mystery novels featuring his fictional lieutenant governor, One-Eyed Mack, and a political satire, The Last Debate. Lehrer surprised critics and won new readers with his breakout success, White Widow, the "tender and tragic" (Washington Post) tale of a small-town Texas bus driver. He followed it with the bestselling Purple Dots, a "high-spirited Beltway romp" (The New York Times Book Review), and The Special Prisoner, about a WWII bomber pilot whose brutal experiences in a Japanese P.O.W. camp come back to haunt him 50 years later. His recent novel No Certain Rest recounts the quest of a U.S. Parks Department archaeologist to solve a murder committed during the Civil War.

Across this wide range of subjects, Lehrer is known for his careful plotting and even more careful research. Clearly, this is a man who cares about good stories -- but which is more important to him, journalism or fiction? Lehrer once admitted that he's known as "the TV guy who also writes books. Someday, maybe it will go the other way and I'll be the novelist who also does television."

Good To Know

During the last four presidential elections, Lehrer has served as a moderator for nine debates, including all three of the presidential candidates' debates in 2000. He also hosted the Emmy Award-nominated program "Debating Our Destiny: Forty Years of Presidential Debates."

Lehrer lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, novelist Kate Lehrer. The two also have an 18th-century farmhouse close to the Antietam battle site. Visits to the site helped inspire Lehrer's thirteenth novel, No Certain Rest.

Robert MacNeil, for many years the co-host with Jim Lehrer of PBS's MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, is also a novelist. His books include Burden of Desire, The Voyage and Breaking News.

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    1. Also Known As:
      James Lehrer
    2. Hometown:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 19, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Wichita, Kansas
    1. Education:
      A.A., Victoria College; B.J., University of Missouri, 1956

Read an Excerpt


Bishop John Quincy Watson, a man of God and grace, was yanked back into his ordeal of hate and horror by a pair of eyes.

They flashed at him from out of the crowd in a concourse at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport-DFW as it was known by those who knew airports. He stopped with a jolt and turned around. He fixed his sights on the backs of people walking past.

None of the backs looked familiar.

He walked toward Gate 32A, where he was to board a flight to Washington's National Airport.

The bishop hadn't seen the face, only the eyes.

Whose were they?

Then he knew. It came to him cleanly, clearly, and absolutely. The eyes were those of a man he knew fifty years ago as "the Hyena." He knew it with a crushing certainty that was as unshakable as John Quincy Watson's faith in the Almighty.

For reasons of exercise and pride, the bishop seldom used the motorized carts provided at airports for the old and lame, choosing instead to make his way slowly on his own with his ivory-headed cane. He was seventy-one years old and retired from his post as the Methodist bishop of San Antonio, Texas, but he did not see himself as an old man. Not yet. He was still active, traveling extensively around the world as a guest lecturer and preacher. He was on his way now, in fact, to address an ecumenical prayer breakfast at a large Methodist church in one of Washington's Virginia suburbs.

Now he did raise a hand to hail one of the carts, which fortunately had no other passengers. He told the young man driving that he was in a terrific hurry to get to the opposite end of the concourse.

They beeped their way through the crowd of people and theirvarious rolling suitcases. "Right here, son," said the bishop to the cart driver after several minutes. "Let me off right here, please."

There he was, the man with the eyes. It was him-his height and build, his bearing and presence. There he was handing his boarding pass to a female flight attendant at the grate. There was the man John Quincy Watson would never, ever forget. Watson walked as fast as he could, but the man was down the boarding corridor and out of sight by the time the slow-moving bishop reached the flight attendant. He ignored the other passengers in line and went right up and asked, "Was that man's name Tashimoto?"

The flight attendant, a forty-ish woman with short brown hair, looked at him as if he were a potential bomber or masher. But after a second or two of further inspection she must have concluded he was safe because she looked down at the stack of tickets on the stand in front of her. "Yes, that's what it says
on the ticket-T-a-s-h-i-m-o-t-o ' " she said. "Now, if you'll
move out the way, sir, so we can resume boarding?"

Bishop Watson said, "Where is this plane going, please?"

"To San Diego," she said, pointing to an electric sign near the door that said just that.

"I'd like a ticket, please."

"We're already overbooked, but see the agent at the counter.)

The agent confirmed that there were no seats on the plane, and Watson couldn't convince him or the attendant at the gate to let him on for just a few minutes to simply look at the passengers. He told them that he saw a man board whom he had known many years ago.

Against the rules, they said. Permission denied.

In a few minutes the boarding door was closed. Bishop Watson stayed right there and watched through the large plate-glass window as the plane-he recognized it as a Boeing 757-backed out from the gate. Now and then he had wondered what it would be like to fly one of these jetliners compared with Big Red, his B-29, and the other propeller planes he had flown in World War 11. But it was only an occasional wonder. In fifty years he had never even entered the cockpit of any kind of airplane.

By the time he started walking again toward Gate 32A, he realized that it was already ten minutes past the departure time of his flight.

It didn't matter. The Hyena was alive! The little Jap was here in America, on a plane for San Diego!

Bishop Watson felt shame for thinking of the Hyena as a Jap. But it was an unavoidable reflex. For the bishop, this man could never be anything but a Jap.


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2005

    Great and gripping

    This was the first book by Jim Lehrer that I read and I have since bought all of his other books. This book grabs you on page one and doesn't let go until you close the book. A great read by a great author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2002

    A good fast read...

    All Jim Lehrer novels are incredible, and this one is no different at all. Set in a Japanese past and American present, Lehrer takes you from one time to the other with each passing chapter and then blends them together in the end. Lehrer tale of revenge and raw emotions manages to spring surprises on you when you don't even expect them. I read this book in two days, cause I couldn't put it down. I'm not kidding either...when I stopped reading to sleep, I couldn't wait to pick the book back up again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2001

    Excellant!!!!!!!

    This book explains the aftermath of the WWII, and how it grew stronger within the characters lives. I believe this book really explains the soldiers point of view. As a woman, I can understand my grandfather experience in WWII and my uncle's experience in the Korean War. This author has written a profound book!! Soldiers need to get better treatment and respect!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2000

    Outstanding, thought provoking...

    WOW...I just completed reading THE SPECIAL PRISONER and can't get it out of my mind. I am a relatively slow reader but finished this book in one night. The subject matter is a deviation from what I normally read but I am a fan of Jim Lehrer. In my opinion, this is his best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2011

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