The 47th Samurai
Two characters with the quintessentially American names of Earl and Bob Lee Swagger occupy center stage in this latest view of the father and son adventure series. This one begins in the unlikely setting of battle-ravaged Iwo Jima in the hellish fighting of 1945. Marine First Sergeant Earl Swagger leads his unit against a Japanese strongpoint ably commanded by Captain Hideki Yano. The two men engage in a fight to the death, and the American emerges with Yano’s samurai sword as a souvenir of this duel. The sword appears again when Earl’s son, a retired Marine reconstructing his life as a middle-aged civilian, is visited by Yano’s son in his quest to locate his father’s sword. Bob Lee Swagger manages to find this long forgotten connection between the two families and returns with it to Japan to formally present it to Captain Yano’s family.
Once the story moves to Japan, the account changes in suspense as the true meaning of the blade and the central role this particular sword plays in Japanese culture brings in characters as diverse as a Japanese pornography kingpin, Yakuza gangsters, a beautiful and cunning Japanese-American CIA agent, and paratroopers from the Japanese Self Defense Forces (what would be termed the Army in any other country). While the reader may be a bit doubtful that a middle-aged foreigner could have so much success operating as an action hero in a cultural setting so radically different from his own, the writer manages to sway you over to his thinking as only a talented veteran writer is able. Stephen Hunter’s grasp of Japanese traditions and the continuing relevance of Japan’s past to its present and future make this a novel suitable for devotees of historical fiction. Those unfamiliar with the saga of the 47 Ronin will certainly find this an arresting introduction to how Japan defines honor, family, and tradition.