This is my first James Clavell novel. In a nutshell, it is a Japanese version of Stalag 17. It is the story of American, British, and Australian POW's at Changi prison camp. A place where the real world is turned completely upside down. In addition to being prisoners, the POW's find their ranks are meaningless. Devoid of societal/military rules "the strong" survive. #1 is "the King," an American corporal who runs the prison camp from the inside.
The King effectively manipulates everyone in the camp from Colonels on down, through his payroll system. If you want money, eggs, cigarettes, medicine, you have to see the King. If you want to sell something, everyone knows you go through the King.
Suspense is derived from the near misses of getting caught by the Japanese or the pip-squeak MP, Captain Grey. Grey's sole motivation is catching the King "breaking the rules." Much of the action is seen through the eyes of Peter Marlowe, an affable English lieutenant to whom the King takes a liking due to his command of the local language and it's value to the King in trading and conversing with the guards.
The King teeters on the edge of good and evil throughout the book, never completely falling off the fence to either side. Under the circumstances, the reader tends to forgive the King's "business" dealings over this lack of compassion for the suffering around him. But when the suffering befalls Marlowe, the King reacts as a true friend and saves Marlowe's arm from amputation.
The finale is somewhat ambiguous and anticlimactic. The man who was once on top, the King, is reduced to a lowly corporal again and the many officers and outranking enlisted men are quick to see the King put back into his place when they are rescued and order is restored.
The books is adequate at best as there are no major conflicts or plot twists. But it is one of the few books telling the story of a Japanese POW camp.