Tour’s Books Blog

March 9, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Tengu: The Mountain Goblin by John Donohue

Donohue is a professor at Albertus Magnus College and a well know author of articles for various martial arts publications. A 30 year veteran of martial arts training, he manages to spin his tales with a voice of authority while never substituting action for plot. While Barry Eisler is a better thriller writer, Donohue writes the martial arts equivalent of a ‘martial arts cozy’ or ‘amateur samurai’ if you will. J Donohue’s two previous books in this series are Sensei and Deshi and both are very worthwhile reads. Tengu is third in this series and a forth is underway.

If there is one recurring theme in the Burke novels it’s ‘A man born out of his time.’ Burke’s inner struggle, the need to find his way between the modern world and his dedication to, and comfort with, the ancient code of his Kendo training, is ever present. As is the always strained relationship with his sensei, Yamashita.  There is also Burke’s disdain for the ‘woo-woo magical’ parts of martial arts – some elements of which he has actually encountered and has yet to get his mind around.   

Martial artist Conner Burke is trying to deal with his current state of unemployment, having been let go from his teaching position by the little Long Island college that had been his nominal employer, while keeping himself busy by taking on more responsibilities at Yamashita-san’s dojo. The always complex relationship between Burke and Yamashita seems to have taken an even odder turn. Burke seems to be consciously avoiding what the sensei is trying to convey to him.

In the Philippines a graduate student is kidnapped. Spec Ops warriors are sent on a mission with Philippine soldiers to raid a terrorist camp. As usual, it is through Sensei Yamashita that Burke gets pulled into the action. An old enemy of Yamashita is training and using old Japanese ties and terrorists to draw the old warrior into one last battle. Burke, with homicide cop brother Mike and his partner Art, they make yet another foray into danger together, this time half way around the world in the Philippines.  But is there going to be a happy ending here?

Like Eisler, Donohue uses the first person to good effect, but the plotting is less complex and certainly Burke is not the world weary killer that Rain is. But he has killed and knows that he’ll do what he must. No, Donohue is not in Eisler’s league when it comes to thrillers, but he has, however, constructed a complete, believable person in Burke and all three of his books are worth reading.

My Grade: B-

Who would enjoy this book: Donohue’s novels don’t fit neatly into any blanket genre. Not wise-guy PI like Spenser or Elvis Cole, not hard case John Rain or Jack Reacher, not Steven Segal fans either – but maybe a little of each. Though an imperfect fit I’d say fans of Doc Ford novels by Randy Wayne White, Thorn novels by James W Hall or Steven Hamilton’s Alex McKnight novels should be happy.


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