Gloucester Times Review. Author makes no apology for 'The Apology'

A filmmaker comes to terms with his past in Southeast Asia while battling denizens of the criminal underworld in this debut political thriller.

Video producer Christian Lindstrom has come to Vietnam to shoot tourism commercials for a high-end, Tokyo-based advertising agency. Together with Japanese-Vietnamese co-producer Nachi Tanaka and Vietnamese production assistant Hai, he scours the lush, historic environs in and around the city of Hanoi for shooting locations. Their work becomes bittersweet for Lindstrom, as he’s haunted by his memories of being an armed combat soldier on the very same streets. As the production proceeds through Ho Chi Minh City and Tan Son Nhut Air Force base, Christian’s attraction for Nachi deepens, but then she suddenly disappears in Hoi An, a port city on Vietnam’s central coast. She later appears in a ransom video on YouTube, seemingly at the mercy of two kidnappers who demand an apology from the Japanese government for a World War II massacre of thousands of the city’s citizens. The story goes viral as the clock ticks down to Nachi’s potential murder. Soon, Christian, aided by Hai and clever police investigator Bao, risks life and limb to rescue Nachi, but things take an unexpected turn, involving a vengeful Hanoi gangsters and police-protected Yakuza hit men. In a brisk succession of clipped chapters, Haggman, an advertising agency entrepreneur, incorporates vital snippets of Vietnam’s past into the framework of his novel. This sense of nuance embellishes the storyline, gives readers historical perspective, and gives the nefarious evildoers a purpose for their malevolence. The author also quickly ramps up the suspense when Nachi disappears early on. Overall, these qualities add up to a thrilling, fully immersive, and cinematic reading experience. The ominous, open-ended conclusion, meanwhile, leaves room for potential further installments.

An impressive novel, brimming with action and history, with a lead character that has enough swagger for future adventures.

In the film Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola and screenwriter John Milieus gave a panoramic view of the Vietnam War via a boat trip upriver for a rendezvous with a killing zone overseen by a crazed Special Forces colonel… The same type of panoramic view is provided by Eric Haggman in this haunting noir mystery…

Although Haggman reminds readers of the Western colonial presence that once  controlled Vietnam, (Vietnamese waiters speak in French accents), he doesn’t reserve his twists merely for the obligatory car chases and brutal beatings; he surprises by making The Apology not about America apologizing to Vietnam for the war they waged there, but about the guilt felt by modern-day Japanese for what Hirohito’s government did to the Chinese in Vietnam during the late 30s and World War II period…

Today, World War II is chiefly remembered for Nazi atrocities. But it is useful to remember that Imperial Japan had its own share… The achievement of Haggman is that when he does note the setting of this fast-paced adventure novel, it meets the demands of true noir: the country is as much a character as any of the villains.

~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader

With the appearance this month on Amazon of “The Apology,” Magnolia resident Eric Haggman takes a first ambitious step toward joining the ranks of advertising creative directors turned authors whose names will be known to anyone who has ever perused the paperback shelves of airport book shops.

Eric Haggman

James Patterson tops a list that includes Stuart Woods, Ted Bell and Peter Mayle. But it is the preternaturally prolific Patterson, whose Alex Cross brand consistently leads his pack of thrillers to the best-sellers lists, who Haggman — creative director of the North Shore-based Haggman Advertising — most obviously emulates. So it’s no surprise to learn on his acknowledgement page that the novice novelist prepped for putting pen to page by immersing himself in a James Patterson Master Class.

As a mentor, Patterson’s mantra is to “Make every page a thriller.” And as a student, Haggman does him proud. This is not the sort of snappy, dialogue-driven page-turner James Patterson writes. But what this novice novelist lacks in seasoned sizzle, he makes up for with a slow burn build to a story that explodes across decades and generations in a perennially war-torn Asia, opening wounds that had never really healed from Japanese atrocities that still rage on in the minds of their survivors’ descendents.

Coming as it does on the heels of President Barack Obama’s controversial peace mission to Hiroshima, “The Apology” arrives with what seems uncannily prescient timing. Rightly or wrongly, the president’s journey was viewed by many as an apology, and one which Japan did not deserve. Haggman gives us plenty of reason to consider both sides of the arguments, and he does so through the first person narrative voice of a former U.S. Marine infantryman who is no stranger to the killing fields of Asia.

That person is Christian Lindstrom, and the last time he was in Vietnam he was there to shoot a gun. This time, he’s there to shoot tourism commercials for the powerful Tokyo ad agency Oshima. We first meet him in his suite at the luxurious Hotel Metropole in Hanoi, a city once better known to his generation for its so-called Hanoi Hilton, infamous home to American prisoners of war. The poignancy of the contrast is not lost on Lindstrom, who even after all these decades remains in his mind a prisoner of that war in this land he swore he’d never return to.

Yet here he is again, living large in a preposterously prosperous 21st-century Vietnam that’s risen like the phoenix out of the ruins of war. While scouting locations with his film crew, he revisits streets and markets he knew as scenes of combat and carnage. If he’d had any hope at all of finding closure here, that hope is soon drowned in “rivers of tears.”

Compounding the emotional overload is the enchanting Nachi Tanaka, the enigmatic femme fatale who, as a top-gun producer, is running the complicated two-week multi-location shoot, and stealing his heart while she’s at it.

When the beautiful Nachi — daughter of a Japanese father and a Vietnamese mother —suddenly disappears, Lindstrom’s worst fears are realized as he finds himself once again at war in Vietnam, fighting for Nachi’s life.

As the demands for Nachi’s life — that Japan formally acknowledge and apologize to the Vietnamese people for the WWII massacre in Hoi An of more than 7,000 civilians — are delivered with the viral velocity of 21st-century social media and ingeniously manipulated to provoke public outrage, “The Apology” turns into a page-turner.

Ambushed by history amid the palms and pools of the luxury hotels he’s filming, Lindstrom is drawn into worlds that work in inscrutable and violent ways.

Eric Haggman says he sees his thriller as “‘Mad Men’ meets ‘House of Cards’.” In this case, the mad men are some truly mad executives at that powerful Tokyo ad agency, Oshima, about whom this reviewer can say no more without giving away head-spinning twists and turns.

When the action moves cinematically from Vietnam to Japan’s neon-lit urban landscape, film buffs might also see in “The Apology” a cross between Sophia Cappola’s Tokyo-centric “Lost in Translation,” and the Osaka gangster-scape of Ridley Scott’s 1989 thriller, “Black Rain.”

In this whodunnit, it’s hard to say who done what, as victims are revealed as perpetrators, perpetrators fall victim to their own naiveté, and Robin Hoods become mafiosa. But suffice it to say that, in fighting for Nachi’s life, Lindstrom re-embraces his inner marine. Aided and abetted by his wise and street smart Vietnamese colleagues Hai and Bao, he outwits everyone from corrupt cops to powerful politicians to the Hanoi mafia, and the even more powerful chiefs of Japan’s mafia-like Yakuza clans, snapping connections in an ancient network that has long silenced the apology owed by World War II Japan to the surviving descendents of those thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians massacred at Hoi An.

As the high and mighty topple, we meet their covert low-life lieutenants and some amazing characters, including Tokyo night club owner Mr. Yazawa, who knows everyone who’s anyone in town and all the nefarious ways they got there. That includes, in a fascinating foray into post-WWII American-occupied Japan, the Godfather-like Mr. Kadoma, who built his fortune on jewels stolen from the Shanghai Chinese — which helped pay for the big name American USO troop entertainers who built his nightclub into Japan’s elite power base.

Inspired to write “The Apology” by a one-month trip to Vietnam with his wife Emily, Haggman says the couple were incredibly moved by how forgiving the Vietnamese were toward them as Americans, considering the millions of Vietnamese lives lost in a war that its chief architect, Robert McNamara, would later admit was “entirely wrong.”

Halfway through writing the book, the couple returned to Asia for a month of boots-on-the-ground research in Japan. That research, along with Haggman’s basic humanity and passion for military history, make “The Apology” a powerful, thought-provoking read. Along the way, and at times feeling a bit like the tourism commercial Christian Lindstrom somehow manages to complete, we also get a grand tour of the great hotels and corporate skyscrapers of contemporary Asia.

Although the Hoi An massacre itself is fictional — a composite of similar Japanese war crimes — it succeeds in opening a pandora’s box of WWII atrocities for which Japan has yet to apologize, and Haggman offers no apology to those who today might see his view as politically incorrect.

Throughout this heartfelt debut novel, we are reminded that Japan is not alone in the atrocities committed under a blood red Asian moon. That the terrible cries of millions of dead in the murderous grass of the jungles of Vietnam are still very much alive in the minds, hearts and nightmares of American Vietnam veterans like Christian Lindstrom.

Joann Mackenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2707, or by email jomackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.

“Is Haggman the new Patterson? The Apology is both a fast-paced adventure novel and an extraordinarily clear and accurate description of the disturbing relationship between the militaristic Japanese and their Chinese pre-war victims. Haggman is a superb storyteller with a visual sense of words who makes this disturbing era come pictorially to life.”

Read it now because when it’s a major Hollywood film, you and I can claim to have discovered this formidable talent.”

—James X. Mullen, founder Mullen Advertising, Author of “The Simple Art of Greatness” and Coauthor of “Brian Redman: Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks”

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be quite a ride! Once you start reading The Apology, you won’t want to stop. There are lots of twists and turns as protagonist Christian Lindstrom struggles with corrupt governments, the deadly Yakuza (aka Japanese mafia). He has his own demons to deal with when he returns to Vietnam to make a tourism commercial but he becomes part of a twisted plot involving love interest Nachi Tanaka …”

—Julia Leonard, Author of “Cold Case”
London, England

“Asian underworld intrigue – read it! It was so interesting to read about the history, the people and the culture all wrapped up in an intriguing story about the Asian underworld.

I want to see the movie version!”

—Lynn A. Robinson, Author of
“Put Your Intuition to Work,” “Listen,” “Real Prosperity”

“Five gold stars. What a great read! After the first page, I couldn’t put it down. Just as I thought I knew what would happen next, there would be a surprise twist. What’s not to like—an inside track on corrupt government officials coupled with the Japanese mafia and flashbacks to Christian Lindstrom’s war memories make for the terrific tale. As a fellow author, I know the value of a 5 star rating. This book is getting them and it’s well deserved.”

—Kim Wallace, Coauthor of
“Why People Don’t Buy Things”

“I planned to read this book over the course of my vacation, but ended up starting and finishing all on the same day! I couldn’t put it down! It was a intricate storyline, filled with intrigue and history. Mr. Haggman certainly did his research for the book, I felt that I was immersed in the setting…he painted a beautiful picture of this part of the world as it is now without allowing the reader to forget the harsh reality of what it was during the Vietnam War.”

—Sandra Coletta, Author of
“The Owl Approach to Storytelling: Lead with Your Life”

“A fascinating geographic tour, historical primer and thriller combined. Haggman’s characters come to life in a four-star tour of Vietnam and Japan, when a trip to create hotel video advertisements is transformed into a series of events with explosive international ramifications. I could not put it down.”

—Tom Cronin

“The Apology” will become a classic. A good book is a book you can’t put down. A great book is a book you want to last forever. A classic is a book that captures your mind and becomes part of your life. The Apology will become a classic. I journeyed around Asia with Christian Lindstrom and felt I was part of his complicated and dangerous world. The book got me thinking about apologies and the people I thought perhaps owed me one. Is an apology ever enough? I have learned to never expect apologies, but rather forgive anyone who hurt me. I applaud Eric for his ability to get me thinking about that. I just booked a trip to Japan I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time. I can’t wait to explore Tokyo, Kyoto and Kobe. I look forward to the movie “The Apology” starring….Kevin Costner. Thank you Eric Haggman for creating a classic that has become part of my life.”

—Patricia Castraberti

“Kept me riveted—finished in one day. A captivating story! It had everything I look for—intrigue, mystery, murder, and a side of romance. The flashbacks to the war in Viet Nam brought back memories of friends who served and some who never returned. Eric’s writing makes you feel like you are there. Hopefully there will be an Apology #2 to continue the story!”

—Maine_y_acon

“I Make No Apology for Rating It Five Gold Stars! What a great read! After the first page I couldn’t put it down. Just as I thought I knew what would happen next there would be a surprise twist. What’s not to like about an inside track on corrupt government officials coupled with the Japanese mafia and flashbacks to Christian Lindstrom’s war memories make for the terrific tale. As a fellow author (Why People Don’t Buy Things) I know how the value of a 5 star rating. This book is getting them and it’s well deserved.”

—Belvedere

“Keen to see this on the big screen! Fast paced action, riveting narrative, and fascinating content. WOW! Vietnam and Japan including thugocracy – no PBS travel pablum here!

Mr. Haggman writes with economy, sketching juicy characters so we can envision this very visual tale. You’d think he understood concise copy-writing. This would be a fab read for a moderate flight, e.g. Boston to LHR in the daytime.

Great detail “on the ground” in Asia; this could be optioned into a movie!

Worth the read.”

—Nicolas Conde

“A treat! This story rocks! You cannot put this book down. Crisp style, great images, and the complexities of redemption and reconciliation. Gotta be a movie. Can’t wait to go with Christian Lindstrom on his next shoot!”

—Dr. G

“Very good book! I am hoping to see this become a series of books written by this Author!”

—Amazon Customer

“What a page-turner! This thriller has it all – kidnapping, mafia drama, political intrigue, exotic locations, cool characters…It is the perfect summer read.”

—Amazon Customer

“Intense! ‘The Apology’ by Eric Haggman is an intriguing, poignant story of power, corruption, honor, influence and love. Eric’s well-researched, expertly written action thriller offers a rich, first-hand description of the culture and sights of Japan and Vietnam through the eyes and heart of a masterful storyteller–keeping the reader spellbound. The characters are so well developed and real, drawing you in to feel their fear, sorrow, courage, loyalty, and triumph. Congratulations, Eric! Fortune truly does favor the brave.”

—Linda Russo

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It was an harrowing ride, and a fascinating lens into the complex dynamic of the politics and power in Southeast Asia. Seen through the eyes of a modern media professional, the perspective was both personal and credible. Having spent a lot of time in Vietnam myself, I can say that the nuanced descriptions and dialogue rang true. I found the characters emotionally resonant, and the story extremely well researched, and captivating.”

—menster

“The Apology is a page-turning thriller you won’t be able to put down! I couldn’t. It’s a journey through the Asian underworld that leaves you in constant suspense and takes turns you never expected. What a terrific read!!!”

—Matthew Haggman

“Tourism Thriller! An intensely powerful first novel by a man who’s obviously had this story in his head a long time. Put it in your hands. Wildly good and culturally rich, with shocking new realities of what you ever believed to be true. The Apology does the thing we wish we had the courage to do: fight with what’s right against evil and all odds.”

—Jeanne Wallace

“I couldn’t put it down. I usually only like non-fiction, but I read The Apology and it felt so real with description and vivid details of Japan and Vietnam and the people and inner workings of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) – it was like I was there. Exciting, fast moving, suspenseful plot. Hard to put down. Great read!”

—Amazon Customer

“Suspenseful and scary, yet real. I read The Apology on our pilgrimage to Montana to see the grandkids and dogs and kids and mountains. Having written four books I have an idea of what it takes to publish. Congratulations and “Well done good and faithful servant.” The suspense grew as the pages turned. I could not put it down, but the plane landed and they said we had to get off.

Your character development is very appealing and drew me in. I love that you did not make this a torrid love/sex book, which it could have been. Now my Christian sons can read it too. It seemed as if you were the character “Christian”? I know you spent time there. Were you in Viet Nam in the War? By the way, I had orders to go as a Forward Area Observer, average live expectancy less than 30 days. My brother was there so then (1971) Sen. Proxmire called the Pentagon and had my orders rescinded. I am curious about the Mafia, I guess it is everywhere? I know my brother did not like the Viet Nam cuisine, but he was not eating like the book characters including nice wine. I was impressed with the detectives, who had lots of integrity, at least Bao. Your descriptions were important to “beam” the reader into the fray. By the way, I found no typos, so I am impressed with your editor as I have a great one named Diane if you ever need one. I do like to see the good guys win, even tough evil continues to corrupt our morally bankrupt world.

I have not yet written fiction and am interested to try, but don’t have a story line yet. I have been thinking of a devote Christian trying and sometimes failing to live in this crazy culture. Grace and Peace to you brother and keep writing.”

—Amazon Customer