The Special Prisoner: A Novel by Jim Lehrer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In the 1980s and most of 1990s, before I quit watching TV, I had been a fan of McNeil and Lehrer's NewsHour on PBS; I used to watch it almost every day. This was an interesting, serious, and mature news program unlike the so-called news on the networks. So I was quite excited about Jim Lehrer's book, "The Special Prisoner". Alas, I am not able to recommend it - while the plot is engrossing, the book is not written well.
John Quincy Watson used to be a B-29 bomber plane pilot during World War II. He participated in many bombing raids on Japanese cities and villages, where incendiary bombs were used. Men, women, and children on the ground were burned alive, and their surviving parents, children, spouses, or siblings could smell the burning human flesh. Watson could smell it too.
One day Watson's plane is shot down; he falls into Japanese hands, and in the infamous Sengei 4 camp for war prisoners he witnesses and is subject to unimaginably cruel torture applied by Japanese soldiers to Americans. One sadistic Japanese officer - whom the prisoners named Hyena - excels at torturing the prisoners of war. Almost each day an American is killed through unspeakably cruel means in front of other prisoners.
The plot of the novel begins in the 1990s, when Watson, who in the meantime became a Methodist bishop, spots Hyena at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. The past is told in flashbacks. The novel is, basically, a revenge story. It is quite crude and has A Big Ethics Question written all over it, all in capitals. The novel reads as if it was written with the purpose of becoming standard book club fare. There is some bad writing too, for instance, in the unconsumed sex scene. Very readable novel but grossly flawed.
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