Midnight Climax
January 23, 2024

Book Review

Midnight Climax

Midnight Climax is a compelling thriller inspired by a real CIA experiment carried out from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. During the CIA operation, men were lured into brothels by prostitutes, then dosed with psychedelic drugs to study their effects.

The story opens in late 1950s San Francisco, where a Chinese prostitute called Mai is entertaining a client while government agents are filming the encounter through a one-way mirror. As instructed, Mai gives the trick an LSD-laced drink, after which the man goes crazy. Mai is killed, the perpetrator escapes, and the repercussions radiate through the CIA, the San Francisco Police Department, and two rival Chinese gangs – the Hop Sing Tong and the Hei Long Tong.

Mai’s homicidal client is Steven Epps, a decorated soldier who was captured during the Korean War and held in a POW camp. In the camp, Epps was subjected to chemical treatments and brainwashing meant to turn him into a weapon against his own side. The regimen made Epps freakishly strong, fast, and immune to pain.

When Epps was released from the POW camp, the CIA put him in a medical facility where they secretly continued the torturous experiments. The government’s goal was to learn how to create super soldiers. Epps escaped from the hospital, and is now so damaged that psychedelic drugs or stress trigger murderous psychotic episodes, after which Epps can’t remember what he did.

The dead prostitute Mai was the cousin of Lin Tai Lo (aka John), the leader of the Hop Sing Tong. John wants revenge against Mai’s killer, so he hires his acquaintance, Japanese-American private investigator Katsuhiro Takemoto (Kats), to track down Steven Epps.

Kats is a decorated World War II veteran who was injured in France and then suffered shell shock. The skilled PI is now a martial arts expert who rides around San Francisco on a motorcycle and has useful contacts in Japantown, Chinatown, and the San Francisco Police Department.

With Kats’ military background, he feels a kinship with Epps, and would rather see the fugitive cured than killed. So the PI, with assistance from his girlfriend Molly Hayes and his pal, bookseller Shig Murao, sets out to find Epps. Kats hopes he can placate Tong leader John and get Epps the help he needs.

Meanwhile, the government is desperately trying to recapture Epps and engineer a cover up. For their LSD experiments, CIA agents have been getting prostitutes from the Hei Long Tong in exchange for guns and ammunition. Dragon Eye Wen, head of the Hei Long Tong, plans to use the weapons against the Hop Sing Tong, who are his rivals for control of Chinatown.

With Kats, the CIA, the police, and the Hop Sing Tong all looking for Epps, and violence breaking out between the Tongs, the story is chock full of skullduggery, druggings, abductions, fight scenes, and deaths. The gang warfare would appeal to fans of the TV series ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and the finely choreographed brawls are reminiscent of the ‘Orphan X’ novels by Gregg Hurwitz.

Kageyama has done his research and nicely captures the atmosphere of the time and place, with beatniks doing their thing; Chinese shopkeepers dispensing herbal cures and practicing acupuncture; Japanese neighbors helping each other; SRO buildings; nightclubs; brothels; ethnic food and clothing; and the ambiance and geography of San Francisco.

This is the second book in the Kats Takemoto series and I look forward to more. Highly recommended.

Thank you to Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist, for a copy of the book.

Midnight Climax is available at:

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