Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Review of The Informant by Andrew Rosenheim (Arrow, 2013)

September 1941.  Special Agent James Nessheim has been sent to Hollywood where he somewhat reluctantly works in a movie studio screening scripts.  Supposedly working out of the Los Angeles FBI office, he actually reports directly to Assistant Director Harry Guttman.  One of Nessheim’s informers, Billy Osaka, a Japanese-American journalist and translator with a gambling problem, has gone missing after asking to see him urgently.  Nessheim sets out find Osaka, but soon discovers that others are also searching for him.  His boss has also been dragged into murky waters when a State Department employee with youthful communist sympathies approaches him to reveal that Russians have been seeking to activate him as a spy.  The next day the man is found dead in the park in which they met.  As Nessheim tracks Osaka’s trail, Guttman discovers that a sizeable amount of Russian-owned money has been transferred from New York to a Japanese bank in Los Angeles and asks his agent to find its destination.  Neither Nessheim or Guttman realise the significance of their respective cases, but both are acting beyond their remit and have hunches that they should keep digging away despite the warnings to the contrary.

The Informant is a historical political thriller set immediately prior to America entering the Second World War.  It’s the second book in the James Nessheim series, but can be read as a standalone.  The strength of the story is the plot and contextualisation.  The tale is told through a set of alternating perspectives of James Nessheim in Los Angeles, and is his boss, Harry Guttman in Washington and New York, and centres on finding a missing Japanese-American informant, uncovering the work of Soviet agents, and establishing if there is a link between the two and its significance.  Whilst, the timeline is linear, the plot weaves together a number of strands and subplots to create a complex, if somewhat fanciful, stew.  Nevertheless, Rosenheim makes sure the reader stays orientated and that the story keeps moving forward.  Moreover, he evokes the tense atmosphere, politics and political landscape of the time and nicely places the story in its locales, with a strong sense of place with respect to the film studio, Little Tokyo in LA, and the hills above Santa Barbara, and context with respect to the marginalised position of the Japanese in America and political sympathies with communism and the plight of the Soviet Union as German troops advance on Moscow.  The result is a thoughtful, engaging and well told tale.


1 comment:

RTD said...

I am intrigued by your superb review. Now -- without delay -- I am off to my library's website where I hope to find a copy. Perhaps it will fit into my ABC's of Crime Fiction challenge at my blog, Beyond Eastrod. Thanks for the review.