The February Plan, by James Hall Roberts, was first published in 1967. It tells the story of Phillip Corman, a famous author who travels to Japan to investigate the mysterious death of his son, a lieutenant in the military. Accompanied by his beautiful secretary (of course), Corman plunges into the murky world of Asian politics.
Corman's investigation of his son's death leads him into direct conflict with a cabal of hard-line American patriots, who are determined to wipe out the budding Chinese threat by nuking a scientific conference. Although these hard-liners first try to dissuade Corman through indirect means, it quickly spirals into violent action.
The February Plan has the trappings of a dated thriller. Corman's relationship Finley (his secretary) is painfully misogynistic and his isolation from New York, a key part of the thriller, seems prehistoric in the era of the cell phone, internet and 8 hour flight. The Japanese, as expected, are merely quiet plot devices - there to provide a bit of information, a car ride or the occasional hot meal. All substantial interactions take place between the half-dozen Americans in the book.
Although the minutae of the book are pure 1967, the plot could easily be transposed into the modern day (in fact, probably has, in inferior form, as a dozen made-for-airport thrillers). By relegating the 'Red Chinese menace' to the background, and concentrating the story on the interaction between Corman (reluctant patriot) and the circle of plotters, the novel becomes eerily timeless. Every era has had a group of ultra-patriot, literary whipping-boys who are willing to risk a nuclear holocaust in order to stop the Chinese/Russian/Middle Eastern/Chinese-again menance.
It is almost a shame that Corman is such an unlikeable character. Although his motivation is made clear (avenge his son!) and his ineptitude as both an action hero and a judge of character makes him a little endearing, Corman is essentially a pretentious ass. He uses his exalted literary position to open doors, but then sulks when he's not recognised. His relationship with his dead son was strained - completely Corman's fault. He not only recognises this, he seemingly revels in it.
Corman's relationship with his secretary is also painful to read. He casually contemplates discarding Finely when she reveals she has feelings (god knows why). Oddly (since she's not even in the latter half of the book), he recants, for no explicable reason. He "proposes" to her with this timeless speech:
"I'm an egocentric man, set in my ways, and it's not likely I'm going to change.... I won't say I can't live without you, because I don't believe that. But don't want to live without you, let's put it that way."
Oh, let's! But, of course, the smooth-talker gets the girl in the end.
As a final note, I have no idea what's going on with the cover. Corman is supposed to be in his forties and Finley certainly isn't Japanese. Corman brandishes a pistol for almost six pages, total, and none of those pages also holds a random cowering Japanese girl. Completely bizarre.
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