Rising Sun by Michael Crichton

Alfred A. Knopf 1992 355 pp. 22.00

Copyright © Steven E. Alford


Rising Sun is a frightening book.

Sure, a beautiful young woman is murdered. Sure, one of the protagonists is wrongfully charged with child molestation. These are the elements of a generic, almost mundane murder mystery. The frightening part, however, is not murders and molestation, but the image of the Japanese Mr. Crichton presents: omnicompetent, economically voracious, and appearing soon in a neighborhood near you.

Mr. Crichton's book arrives in bookstores coincident with a wave of ill-informed and xenophobic Japan-bashing. Those looking for a more balanced view won't find in his pages, however, because Mr. Crichton sees in Japan "a country the size of Montana, with half our population, [who] will soon have an economy equal to ours," owing to what he calls "adversarial trade, trade like war, trade intended to wipe out the competition--which America has failed to understand for several decades."

Rising Sun tells the story of the embattled thirty-four-year-old Los Angeles police detective Peter James Smith, a newly-appointed Special Services Officer given cases with political or diplomatic angles. Smith is called to the offices of the Nakamoto company, a huge Japanese conglomerate, on the night of the opening party for their new building. There, on the forty-fifth floor, atop Nakamoto's conference table, lies the gorgeous and lifeless body of Cheryl Lynn Austin, a twenty-three-year-old Texan in a five-thousand dollar party dress. Someone had strangled her, but her history of kinkiness and promiscuity left the killer's identity and motive wide open.

Accompanying Smith on his call is John Connor, an older cop and Japan specialist. Smith, we begin to see, is Watson to Connor's Holmes, always a step behind Connor, telling the story, but often not comprehending the context of the action. The ever-intuitive Connor divines Japanese motives and intentions: they are bent on destroying the investigation for their nefarious corporate purposes.

So much for the plot. While the story may be the skeleton of this novel, Mr. Crichton is clearly much more interested in the tissue, which is his argument that unless we wake up and understand what the Japanese are doing to us, we are destined to become a second-class country, unless, of course, we already are and don't know it.

Owing to Mr. Crichton's passion for his thesis, it seems as if everyone in the novel, from the desk sergeant to the party girls to the security guard has a tidbit of dire information about Japan to share with us.

The Japanese are better crime fighters. "In Japan, every criminal gets caught. For major crimes, convictions run ninety-nine percent. So any criminal in Japan know from the outset he is going to get caught."

Japan is a safer country. "In Japan, you can walk into a park at midnight and sit on a bench and nothing will happen to you. You're completely safe, day and night. You won't be robbed or beaten or killed." Compared, of course, to America. "A homicide every twenty minutes. A rape every seven minutes. A child murdered every four hours."

They control our government. "They own the government. ... Four hundred million [expletive deleted] dollars a year. That's enough to pay the campaign costs of everybody in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives." This from a cop on the beat.

They are more internationally minded. "They were sending 150,000 students a year to America, to learn about our country. And we were sending 200 American students a year to Japan."

And so it goes. Rising Sun is unquestionably a well-paced, exciting thriller. However, the wooden handling of the scary information about the Japanese can get tiresome. So strong is Mr. Crichton's passion for the subject that he has appended a bibliography on the Japanese Threat, posing the question whether this is a novel or a dramatized research paper.

Assuming the Japanese corporation that owns the Hollywood movie studio will allow it, this book will no doubt soon be a Major Motion Picture. In years to come Rising Sun will be seen either as prophetic or hysterical. Read the book, and decide for yourself.