In 1943, when Admiral Yamamoto’s plane crashes into the jungles of Bougainville, an island near Papua New Guinea, his secrets, contained in a briefcase clasped to his chest alongside his samurai sword, are lost. A tribesman, who witnesses a Japanese rescuer bow down in respect to the fallen soldier, removes the briefcase, recognising it as the valuable treasure of a revered king. Many years later, that briefcase stands between one man and his ambitious plans to transform the island into one of the largest mining centres of the world. Jamie Saintclair, art historian and adventurer (not always by choice), is hired by Australian industrialist with a conscience, Keith Devlin, to find the object that Bougainville’s chief demands in return for the briefcase and for talks – the shrunken head of his ancestor.
Finding shrunken heads is an unusual task even for Jamie, especially one that was donated to a Berlin museum in the late 19th century and could have ended up anywhere during the war years. Never one to resist a curious challenge, Jamie sets off on his hunt which takes him from Australia to Germany and other countries which dominated the war and Cold War years. Along the way, Jamie is joined in his quest by Magda Ross, a British anthropologist working in Berlin, who cannot resist the pull of the search, only too willing to leave her desk behind. Neither Jamie or Magda could have had any idea of the trouble ahead. Who would have thought that a lost shrunken head could stir up so much danger?
The Samurai Inheritance is the fourth in James Douglas’s Jamie Saintclair thrillers and it follows a well-developed and satisfying path – as usual with the thrillers the shadow of the Second World War hangs over events, perhaps not surprisingly considering that Jamie’s mission is to restore artworks stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners. In this novel, Jamie is learning to love again, dallying with the idea of forming a family with Fiona and her daughter. This does complicate matters considerably, not least because of the obvious attractions of Magda, his unexpected companion. Having a family in this line of work also makes Jamie very vulnerable indeed.
Jamie Saintclair is a difficult man not to like and it is a pleasure to spend time with him through these novels. He’s more than capable but he’s no superhero and he’s reluctant to kill, increasing his appeal. The fact that he’s an art historian is an added bonus. It means that the novels combine mystery, action, history and art. That’s a winning combination in my eyes.
There is no doubt that this is a slightly more unusual story than the others in the series. A shrunken head is no oil painting and it is harder for this reader at least to get as caught up in its rescue but, as is clear from the few but fascinating chapters set during World War II, the shrunken head may also be a bit of a red herring.
The baddies are rather intriguing in The Samurai Inheritance – they are not quite what they seem and some of them may not be baddies at all. Devlin is arguably the least interesting character of the book but he is more than compensated for by his chief of security, Doug, and some of the shady characters who make their presence known as Jamie and Magda undergo their gruelling journey. There is also one truly terrifying enemy in particular to overcome.
While The Samurai Inheritance isn’t my favourite of the series – it has extremely stiff competition – an intelligent, well-written and thoroughly researched thriller is always something to celebrate and I enjoyed the novel very much indeed. Jamie Saintclair is a fine creation as well as being good company and I look forward enormously to his next adventure!
Also reviewed at Milo’s Rambles