The Iaido Journal  May 2003EJMAS Tips Jar

Book Review: Sensei by John Donohue

Copyright © Ed Chart 2003 All rights reserved.

SENSEI: By John Donohue
ISBN 0-312-28812-3
Reviewed by: Ed Chart

      Sensei marks author John Donohue's first attempt at fiction, he is better known as the author of four non-fiction books on the martial arts including Complete Kendo, Herding the Ox: The Martial Arts as Moral Metaphor and Warrior Dreams: The Martial Arts and the American Imagination.  From the press realease:

John Donohue has studied martial arts for over 25 years and is a nationally recognized authority on the subject.  He holds a black belt in both Karate and Kendo and is the associate editor of the Journal of Asian Martial Arts.
John Donohue's Sensei is a fictional murder mystery thriller set in the New City martial arts community, and follows the efforts of lead character Connor Burk and his Sensei in their attempts to help solve a series of murders involving promonent martial arts teachers accross America.  The only clue being the ominous message left by the killer "Ronin".  The hardcover book is 258 pages in length and is published by Thomas Dunne Books St. Martin's Minotaur of New York, and retials for $23.95 USD ($33.95 CND).

My first visual impression of this book was rather mixed.  A dark red cover with the words SENSEI written in English and RONIN written in kanji in the background with the caption "Someone is killing the great martial artists of America", seemed a bit over the top for me.  It also caused me to quickly slote this book into the catagory of "throw away airline flight-time waster".  That said, the easy language style and smooth plot development work well to hook the casual reader.  I found myself not wanting to put the book down just to see how the author would deal with various aspests of character development.  The discription of techniques is sometimes quite involved and again helps to draw the reader into the martial arts world.  The speckling of choice Japanese Budo terms and their meanings help to give the unfamilar some window into the common working termenology of the martial arts practicioners.

The book does have its weaknesses, but these are problems I think only people familar with the Martial Arts and Japanese cultural will experience.  For some, however, it will be impossible to suspend their disbelief enough to enjoy the book.  I found myself in this situation several times and simply had to put the book down, slap myself and then pick it up again. The author also aludes to many real schools of Japanese martial arts and situations which those with some knowedge might either smile or shake their heads at.

Overall this book is a fun pulp fiction read, especially for the non-martial artist who harbours secret desires to understand the martial arts culture.  For the more experienced it might be a little campy at times but I still think it will be enjoyable.  I would recommend this book to those of you who are looking to kill some time on a long flight/train ride/day at the beach.  On the other hand, having just noticed the price tag for the hardcover verison (33.95 CND) I take it all back, it's simply way to much to pay for this type of book.  Wait for the soft cover.

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TIJ May 2003