Friday, December 01, 2006

Behind the Yellow Filter

Author: Stuart Held
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
ISBN: 1-59800-290-2

When Robby Schein accepts a job with The Allied Group (TAG), Inc., he expects to spend his life selling cameras. After six months of successful employment, he learns that the company’s mission of selling cameras is a cover for its real task: to use photography as a tool for gathering intelligence for the American government. Eighteen months later, Robby is promoted and trained for his first field mission. The CIA needs him to travel to Japan, where several companies are building extraordinary photographic equipment that shows great promise for use in amateur, professional and military applications.

Robby travels to Japan and meets with the top representatives of Nikon, Fuji, Mamiya and Tamron, with whom he conducts legitimate business for TAG. Robby also meets with members of the Japanese navy to learn about lenses they have developed for taking photos through submarine periscopes. He quickly discovers that several other countries (China, the Soviet Union and East Germany) are also interested in the new photographic technologies. A bidding war erupts and events turn violent when the Yakuza (a Japanese crime syndicate) gets involved. The story ends with Robby’s successful completion of his mission and his promotion to vice president of TAG, Inc.

Much of Robby’s story is taken from the author’s own experiences as a marketer of photographic equipment. Held has traveled extensively in Japan and his knowledge of Japanese culture is delightfully evident throughout the story. The book also includes many tidbits of information about the photographic industry. Held has a wealth of intriguing information to share about Japan and its rise to prominence in the international photographic industry.

Generally speaking, Held has successfully put together some basic nuts and bolts in this book. Robby Schein is an appealing character, the story’s plot holds together fairly well and Held has interesting material with which to work. Unfortunately, the book suffers from serious editorial flaws. Held’s writing style is unpolished and the book is hampered by numerous grammatical and syntactical errors. Since Outskirts Press is a venue for self-publication, I do not know what sort of editorial assistance, if any, they provided for this book. If his editor is employed by Outskirts Press, Held should consider finding another publisher for his future works. If his editor was acquired through some other avenue, Held needs to find another one.

One final observation I will make is that the book’s title makes me uneasy. Notwithstanding the fact that an actual yellow photographic filter plays a small role in the story, I can’t disregard the historically racist connotations of the word “yellow” when discussing east Asians, particularly the Japanese. I am perplexed as to how and why Held selected this particular title, which strikes me as a poorly chosen one.

Readers who enjoy espionage stories, and who can tolerate its rough edges, may find Behind the Yellow Filter an intriguing read.

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