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Harry Niles has lived his whole life as a gaijin, the son of American missionaries whose white exterior belies his deep immersion in Japanese culture. This walking contradiction would have enough problems to deal with on any day—one of those kiss/kill girlfriends, a guy with a taste for beheadings—but this day, Dec. 6, 1941, presents its own special dilemma. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Harry wants to hightail it out of Japan, but when the other bomb drops, whose side is he really on? Martin Cruz Smith’s new novel, December 6, presents a welcome semi-departure from the usual is-the-fish-in-or-out-of-the-water? potboiler. Smith, who also wrote Gorky Park, skillfully blends imagistic flashbacks of Harry’s prostitute-errand-boy childhood into a spy-novel image of an artful dodger whose life depends on playing both sides. Smith’s carefully researched chapters delve into youthful apprenticeships and abandonments that give teeth to his character’s love-hate adult relationship with a Japan that has both reared and betrayed him. Throughout his career, Smith has been particularly gifted at evoking time and place, be it detective Arkady Renko’s Moscow in the late Cold War or the coal mines of 19th-century England, and December 6 continues this trend. Whether in the back room or the shrine, the nightclub or the pier, Smith knows there’s always someone on the grift, someone with a past, and someone with a bloody samurai sword. He’s in town at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Josh Levin)