September 1941, and J. Edgar Hoover is preoccupied with using Hollywood to promote the image of the FBI. To this end, he has appointed Special Agent Jimmy Nessheim to the American Motion Pictures studio to advise on movies featuring the Bureau. But when one of Nessheim’s informants, a Japanese American with Hawaiian connections, disappears, and a WASP State Department employee of impeccable pedigree is murdered after a clandestine meeting with Nessheim’s boss in Washington, life begins to imitate art… or the movies.
In this assured, well-written thriller, Rosenheim develops an ingenious hypothesis about the Japanese entry into World War II, involving some colourful murders and a terrific cast of Russian femmes fatales, ruthless studio bosses, ‘pinko’ writers, ingénue starlets and inscrutable Japanese girls, and a redoubtable nun running a leper colony. He recreates the Hollywood of the pre-war era with loving attention to detail, finding time even within his fast-paced plot to describe the sharp suits, the fedoras, the cocktail cabinets in every sitting room, the white-walled tyres on every star’s convertible. His fictional world has great depth and authenticity, supported by well-nuanced language which owes much to the pulp fiction and B movies of the age without feeling in any way contrived.
Although a hard-boiled thriller, The Informant is nevertheless a kind of pre-lapsarian tale, set in the very last weeks of an age of innocence that would be swept away by Pearl Harbour. The Japanese attack forms the novel’s climax, and its denouement takes place in a Japanese-American internment camp. And as Nessheim prepares to enlist, the shadow of the Cold War is already lengthening. A fabulous read – gripping, witty, violent and elegiac. An intelligent thriller. No higher praise as far as I’m concerned.
The Little Tokyo Informant (US)