November 09, 1992 12:00 PM

by Peter Tasker

Maybe it was the sushi. But somewhere between Miami and Mount Fuji, syndicated columnist Dave Barry seems to have mislaid his usually reliable, Pulitzer-prizewinning sense of humor. For the most part, this account of the three weeks Barry and his family spent in the country that gave us sumo wrestlers and midget cars is about as funny as watching one of those behemoths trying to squeeze into a tiny Daihatsu.

In Does Japan (Random House, $18), Barry-san takes aim at the predictable targets—among others, geishas, Kabuki, bowing etiquette and all those wacky things they actually eat! While there are a few chuckles en route—the name of the “health drink” Pocari Sweat, T-shirts bearing nonsense messages such as Circuit Beaver—generally the book just seems forced and padded. To quote Barry’s description of his sightseeing trip to Mount Fuji on a densely foggy day: “I was there but all I could see was the tiny bit of it right around me, and even that wasn’t very clear.”

By contrast, Silent Thunder (Kodansha, $20), the debut novel from British-born, Asia-based financial strategist Tasker, offers the kind of intimate view of Japanese society few foreigners ever achieve—as well as leaner, meaner writing and more chills than the name-brand authors.

Tasker, recently voted Japan’s No. 1 analyst by the financial community there, takes readers into boardrooms and bedrooms, mountain hideaways and love hotels as he spins this intricately plotted thriller. His appealing detective Mori, bounced off the consensus-oriented fast track for youthful political activism, undertakes what seems to be the routine investigation of a finance functionary’s suicide. But before long it starts to look like murder, part of an elaborate conspiracy by an elite secret society, Silent Thunder, to manipulate world financial markets and restore Japan toils glorious samurai past.

As Mori races the clock to save his kidnapped girlfriend and abort the scheme, Tasker offers a pungent view of Japanese society, from the herds of salarymen in their funereal suits to the exotic “soap-girls” ready to fulfill any fantasy for a price. Liberally laced with eroticism and violence, Tasker’s Tokyo has a disembodied, miasmic feel, like a world floating in space between yesterday and tomorrow.

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