Archive for International – Page 2

Jo Nesbo: The Snowman

I had a bad reaction to the first Jo Nesbo title I tried, The Redbreast, and set him aside as unreadable, despite many enthusiastic customers’ responses to the contrary.  Finally a few women in my book club recommended that I give The Snowman a try.  I’m glad I did.

The SnowmanIt’s hard to mess up a serial killer book, which this one is, but there are so many variations, that it’s also hard to be original in the particular sub-genre.  Nesbo more than pulls it off, writing a complex, intelligent, twisty and emotionally penetrating thriller that’s very difficult to put down.  This is the seventh book in Nesbo’s Harry Hole series.  Harry is a Swedish police detective whose spiritual twins might be Ian Rankin’s John Rebus and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander.  He’s a tad cranky, he used to drink, his relationships are problematic, and he’s obsessed with the job, as well as being a very good detective.  He needs all his smarts to catch the serial killer dubbed “The Snowman.”

Even though as a reader you know this is a serial killer novel, Nesbo has many threads and cases and moreover jumps about in time a bit, so that while you know intellectually that all the deaths are connected, it’s a puzzle trying to figure out exactly how they might be.  Starting as a straightforward investigation of the disappearance of an apparently responsible wife and mother – who has left her 10-year-old son home alone – the only tangible clue is a snowman built mysteriously in the woman’s front yard.  For some reason, it’s facing the house.

Hole has been assigned a new recruit, an eager and intense young woman named Katrina Bratt, and the two of them are soon hot on the trail of a number of mysterious disappearances of young mothers.  The serial killer idea is scoffed at by Harry’s superior officers, who think that he got ideas over in the USA when he was taking a criminology class at Quantico.  Bratt believes in him totally though he has some slight doubts about her, but she’s a good officer who is with him as they make some chilling and disturbing finds.

What makes this novel especially original apart from its structure is the really ominous sense of doom that Nesbo manages to inject into an innocent snowman.  I was reminded of the sequence in “Ghostbusters” when Dan Aykroyd imagines the least threatening thing possible, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  And, like the Marshmallow man, who could be afraid of a snowman?  Nesbo pulls it off, as he does this complex, dark take on the serial killer trope.  I am now more than willing to revisit Harry Hole.

Michael Gruber: The Return

Michael Gruber is one of the more original of all mystery writers,  His wonderful brain takes the reader to all kinds of places, almost always an unexpected one.  The Return is no different, following book editor Marder after a diagnosis of fatal cancer.  Marder decides to spend his last days in Mexico, returning to the tiny birthplace of his beloved and now dead wife.

The ReturnHe doesn’t want to burden anyone with his illness, so he cashes out (he has a large stash, despite his profession as an editor), buys a house in Playa Diamente, Mexico, severs ties and heads out in a camper.  Unbidden, a (scary) old buddy of his, Paul Skelly, turns up and refuses to be shaken no matter what.

As the two men arrive in Playa Diamente and scope out Marder’s new house – beautiful, and complete with servants – it has a few less desirable traits, like squatters and a drug cartel that wants his land.

Gruber skillfully ties the story in the present – an increasingly violent and desperate one, where almost no one can be trusted – to his desperate and violent days in Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh trail, where almost no one can be trusted.  It was in Vietnam the young Marder encountered the more seasoned and dangerous Skelly.  A lifelong bond based on mutual respect and extreme loyalty was formed in the jungles of Vietnam, and it’s now been transferred to the jungles of Mexico.

As the story unfolds – one where Marder establishes a little village for the squatters on his property while fending off the increasingly violent attacks of the drug lords – the story of his past with his wife is teased out.  He’s estranged from his son but his daughter becomes curious and tracks him down.  Gruber is no slouch when it comes to writing a kick-ass woman character, and Marder’s daughter, a scientist with a curious mind, is no exception.

All of the side bars in the story taken by Gruber as he unfurls his narrative are fascinating ones, and, as in all Gruber novels, you’re treated to the author’s often profound thoughts on various topics.  In this one, the central topic is death, but there are thoughts on marriage, love, parenthood, children, friendship, loyalty, war and becoming a man and what that means to someone who is looking backward.

While Gruber is frequently thoughtful and thought provoking, he’s also a great thriller writer, and this novel has all the tension and excitement that any suspense fan could desire.  The fact that as a reader you’re getting a little more mental bang for your buck is icing on the cake.  Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Jussi Adler-Olsen: The Absent One

The Absent One, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s second novel in his gripping Department Q series, creates one of the more interesting female characters in recent fiction.  While Kimmie, the “absent one” of the title, is certainly not entirely sympathetic, as Adler-Olsen draws the reader deeper into her world there are sympathetic glimmers.  Explanations of her behavior.  And a portrayal of an exceptionally strong woman who ultimately chooses to do the right thing.

AbsentOneWhile that is part of this novel, this is also, like the first novel, a terrific thriller that will keep any reader glued to the page.  Adler-Olsen has set up his two main characters, Carl and Assad, as a perfect yin and yang.  They are the reliable and comfortable center of the novels, and in this one he’s added a third party, Rose, greeted by Carl as grumpily as he initially greeted Assad.  Despite Rose’s alleged assignment of assembling new desks for their workspace, she manages to prove to Carl that she has plenty to offer.

This is a meticulously assembled novel.  There are several threads which don’t clearly hang together at first but eventually they do.  Department Q is a cold case department, and a file comes across Carl’s desk where the murderer has been found, tried and put in jail.  As far as Carl’s superiors are concerned, there’s nothing to investigate, but the more Carl reads about the case and as he talks to various people involved, the more certain he becomes that there was more than one perpetrator.

The case, a brutal killing of a young sister and brother, seems to connect to a gang of privileged boarding school kids who on their own are alarming enough; united, they are a malevolent force to be reckoned with.  The missing piece of their little group is Kimmie, who has been living on the streets of Copenhagen for years, invisible to everyone, even to those who are trying to find her.

The file has a notation of a series of crimes that seem to also be connected to the same gang – brutal assaults and disappearances or murders that have remained unsolved.  As Carl and Assad begin to carefully and thoroughly uncover clues and investigate the case, they are ordered to stop by the police commissioner.  Like any good mystery hero, Carl operates under his own set of rules, and he doesn’t stop investigating though things get dicey as the gang appears to be leaving some subtle threats in his home.

Kimmie’s story is threaded through the narrative – as we come to know the male members of the gang, now all very successful businessmen – we also get to know Kimmie and her backstory.  The reason she’s living on the streets isn’t completely revealed until towards the end of the book, but as you read Adler-Olsen keeps the reader in a state of unease.  Was what Kimmie did justified?  How culpable was she?  How long can she remain invisible?

I would say Kimmie’s behavior, while far from justifiable, is ultimately understandable and in portions forgivable.  It’s a subtle and not so subtle story of sexism.  The subtlety comes with the fact that while Kimmie was a part of the gang, she’s also used by them in various ways.  Destructive herself, she’s a real portrait of a complicated human being.  To find that inside a novel that has as many gory thrills and twists as a Jeffery Deaver novel is a dark delight.  Adler-Olsen is definitely one of the best additions to the new wave of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Marco Vichi: Death and the Olive Grove

“The story had something at once horrifying and sweet about it, something he had difficulty understanding.” – from Death and the Olive Grove

There are a few poets who are also mystery writers – Georges Simenon, Andrea Camilleri, Colin Cotterill, Matt Beynon Rees, Louise Penny, Karin Fossom – add to that short list Marco Vichi.  I mean poets in a spiritual sense (though Fossom is actually one).  Vichi’s blend of an almost delicate prose style with a gripping story, as well as a wider look at life, places him in that rarified company.  What makes this book special is that it’s thought provoking as well as hard to put down.

deathandtheolivegroveVichi’s books are set in Florence – this is the second in a series, just now being translated.  Three are being released this year, all on different platforms.  It didn’t matter to me as I was reading this one that it was the third, as it stands nicely on its own.

His hero is one Inspector Bordelli, who tears around the Florence of 1964 in his noisy VW beetle, smoking cigarettes and scaring the life out of his assistant, a Sicilian named Piras.  I imagine Vichi set his books during this time period so he could include flashbacks to the war, at that time a not so distant memory that had affected everyone in Europe profoundly.  Bordelli is a veteran and his memories are frequently disturbing ones.

However, as readers we’re treated to the whole texture of Bordelli’s life, which includes cooking, lady friends, and a dwarf named Casimiro whose death Bordelli is trying to solve.  He’s also trying to solve a string of killings of young girls, with very little success or much in the matter of leads.  That’s the horrifying part of the story.

As Bordelli, slowly becoming an exhausted wreck, tries to come up with a lead, he encounters as old acquaintance, a Nazi hunter named Levi.  Their paths converge at a certain point, and mutual respect and a healthy hatred of Nazis on both of their parts allows them to walk the same path, however unsteadily at times.

Piras gives him a few leads merely by thinking in a straight forward fashion.  Bordelli’s thinking is almost operatic in its complexity, though his hunger for justice is as straight forward as Piras’ thought process.

Bordelli’s journey through space and time encompasses the war, his childhood,  Florence, and the comfortable companionship of a talented if chatty cook named Toto and a retired prostitute named Rosa.  There are thoughts on the change washing machines will bring to Italy, how tiny a speck we are in the galaxy, why he hates Nazis, cooking, love and spaghetti.  This is a delicious novel, through and through.

Chris Pavone: The Expats

This novel has garnered lots of praise and attention, as well as winning the Edgar for Best First Novel.  I can say it was a well-deserved award – this is a very original and quirky novel that is more than worthy of all the attention.  It’s not much like any other novel I’ve ever read – it has spy elements, international elements, and a strong domestic element that brings what is primarily a spy thriller into the more human realm.  It made me like it much more.

expats_coverI’m not big on spy thrillers and they haven’t been a big part of the genre for awhile – though it’s making a comeback, certainly, with the success of authors like Vince Flynn or the slyly imaginative Mike Lawson.  Pavone brings yet another take.

Kate Moore’s life has taken a new trajectory as her husband suggests they move their family to Luxembourg for his job and their future financial security.  Kate has to quit her own job but quickly realizes she’s happy this decision has been taken out of her hands – she’s glad to have the incentive to move forward, and she begins the long process of leaving, it turns out, the CIA.  She and her family re-settle in Luxembourg becoming, as the titles suggests, ex-pats.  She says to her husband it’s like freshman year of college – everyone is in a new situation and you’re more open to new experiences and people.

Mixed in with a growing sense of tension regarding Kate’s suspicions of exactly what her husband, Dexter, is up to – he’s absent for long periods, leaving her alone with two small children – is the surprising unraveling of her marriage.  She becomes dissatisfied with her domestic chores and finds them dull after being a CIA operative, as well she might, I guess, but I was slightly irritated by her irritation at the necessity of scrubbing toilets and doing the laundry.  We all have to do these things.  (It made more sense when I read the end note and found that the male author had been an expat house-husband himself at one point and especially resented the tiny washing machine that could only wash four pairs of children’s pants at a time).

That aside, Pavone’s delicate dissection of the growing mistrust and distance between Kate and Dexter is masterfully handled, giving an already tense story another level of tension.  It’s a little like an amped up version of the movie Charade.  As they encounter other expats, notably another attractive couple, Bill and Julia, the undercurrents to every interaction between the four adults could be cut with a knife.

It becomes clear that while Kate has hidden her CIA background from her husband, Dexter is hiding something just as big from her, and it’s shattering to her as Dexter has been the one constant in her life that she hasn’t felt a need to investigate.  She’s never felt he needed to act the wealthy financier (though apparently, that’s what he’s becoming) or try and be anything he’s not.  The real journey of the novel is Kate’s reluctance to investigate Dexter, as well as the expert help she’s able to receive when she does and her own investigative expertise coming to the fore.

Kate’s also remembering some of the things she did as a covert op that she regrets and that, in fact, haunt her.  The denouement is both a suspenseful and clever wind up of the story, with more twists than you can count, and the coming clean of husband and wife to one another.  This is a wonderful, fresh book by an inventive new author.

Jussi Adler-Olsen: The Keeper of Lost Causes

Adler-Olsen joins a long line of wildly popular (and actually wildly different from each other) Scandanavian crime writers who started with Henning Mankell and were really ramped up by the popularity of Steig Larssen.  I haven’t been a huge fan of some of the other Scandinavians (including Jo Nesbo), but I love Karin Fossum’s lovely prose and her Ruth Rendell-ish manner of telling a searing and concise story.  Adler-Olsen may prove to be a favorite for me – I couldn’t put this book down.

These are belatedly being translated and published in English, with two available at the moment.  This first volume was actually written in 2007, though it was available here in 2011.  Hopefully this lag time will go away as I imagine I’m not the only one enjoying these books.

The main character is the irascible and cranky Carl Morck, injured in the line of duty, and temperamentally unable to work with anyone else.  A perfect solution seems to be presented to his boss when he’s given a huge amount of funding for a cold case division, called “Department Q”.  Morck is banished to the basement of headquarters, his superiors and co-workers can breathe more easily, and he literally puts his feet up and decides to coast through his work days, playing solitaire and napping.

That’s not a novel, of course, and Adler-Olsen isn’t one to let things lie.  He’s laced his narrative with the story of the disappearance and captivity of a beautiful young politician, Merete Lynggaarde.  It becomes clear (though it’s pretty obvious) that she’s the one being held captive in a concrete room for reasons unknown to her or to the reader.

Carl’s awakening takes a bit of unexpected expectations from the assistant he demands and receives.  It turns out his new helper, Assad, is more than willing to actually assist in solving cases, and reluctant to spend his entire workday rearranging and cleaning their basement office.  As Carl begins to listen to Assad – who tries to make their workplace pleasant by serving tea, playing music, and in general cleaning up and making their office space livable – he is also reluctantly drawn to one old case among the many files in his office.  Of course, it’s the disappearance and presumed death of Merete.

Adler-Olsen, who has been a musician, a writer of books about cartoons and Groucho Marx, and who has studied medicine, sociology and film-making, brings a wide array of skill sets to the table.  He’s an excellent thriller writer, but he’s also great with character, as the pairing of Carl and Assad is delightful and can obviously nourish many books to come.  Assad’s enthusiasm contrasted with Carl’s depression and lethargy is a perfect mix.  And while many of our bookstore clientele have indicated they are weary of the “troubled detective” method of storytelling, Adler-Olsen manages to bring some zest to the whole affair.

Carl’s whole backstory – his ex-wife who won’t leave the shambles of a cottage in his backyard; the cranky adolescent stepson he’s inherited and who lives with him; his peculiar lodger who turns out to have a love for Playmobil toys; and most of all his police backstory, involving the death and injury of two of his colleagues – makes him a rich and intriguing character. Adler-Olsen is excellent at teasing out these details throughout the story, just as he ramps up the suspense by making the end of the book a will-he-get-to-her-in-time affair.  The investigation details are excellent as well.

The translation seems serviceable, and while the action sequences in no way match a master like Robert Crais’, that may be the translation.  The action bits are a tad clunky, but by the time they arrive, you simply won’t care.  I’m truly looking forward to the further adventures of Carl Morck.

Rick Blechta: The Fallen One

Mysteries set in the world of music are few and far between, but those that are musically inclined tend to be excellent.  Perhaps it’s because a gifted musician also has some of the skills of a mathematician and so is skilled at assembling a good puzzle, but whatever the reason, the addition of music as a “setting” always adds quite a bit to a good read.

My favorites are Cynthia Harrod-Eagles series where the main character’s partner/wife plays for an orchestra, and Gerald Elias’ wonderful series that reflect his own skills as a classical violinist.  Rick Blechta’s novel, The Fallen One, features a female opera singer.  This was new territory for me, as I’ve seen an opera once or twice – but decades ago – so my knowledge of opera (other than knowing titles of famous operas) is limited.  I enjoyed what Blechta had to share about this art form.

As this is a novel, though, it’s the story that’s important, and Blechta has a great story and a great hook.  His main character, Marta Hendricks, is singing the lead in La Traviata at the Met,  and while she feels it’s going well, she’s getting strange looks from the rest of the cast.  Towards the very end of the performance, one of the other singers whispers in her ear that her husband is dead.  She collapses completely.

This is just the first chapter.  As readers, we see Marta re-building both her life and her career, culminating in a performance in Paris once again in La Traviata. This is a smashing success, as Marta is discovering that her technique must be matched by acting and emotion.  Feeling light and happy, she’s out on the Paris streets when she sees – her dead husband.

She has been in enough therapy to hold on and to call her therapist before she completely falls apart once again.  She continues performing (her therapist is also her voice coach), and she feels she’s worked her way through what was surely her imagination, when she thinks she sees her dead husband once again.

Everything that follows in the rest of the novel – a surprisingly suspenseful tour of Canadian Biker gangs, among other things – comes from Marta’s quest to discover any secrets her so-called dead husband left behind him.  When people Marta questions begin to turn up dead, she ratchets up her investigation.

Along the way she acquires a new boyfriend (also a singer, though not of her caliber), and Blechta is skillful at depicting Marta’s life as a professional musician.  The parts of the story that concerned music were fascinating to me, and the fact that musical instruments are actually used as an escape tool at the end of the novel was both clever and impressive.  I appreciate it when unlikely detectives use their actual skill set to work their way out of a jam.

Blechta combines the skills of a cozy writer – sharp characters, good food, lots of scenic travel – with the skills of a suspense writer.  It’s a nice mix.  Marta is a terrific and well realized character – I recommend making her acquaintance.

A few questions for Rick Blechta…

After I finished the book, I e-mailed Rick a few questions about it.  I was interested that Marta was so wrapped up in her career she was oblivious to the rest of her life – the book is kind of the story of her awakening.  I also wondered why Blechta chose a female character:

I chose a female narrator (not for the first time) because I wanted to change things up. My previous two novels had male narrators. I also needed a character who really was rather naive about the ways of the world. For instance, Marta never once questioned the fact that her husband wouldn’t accompany her anywhere in public, other than to wonder why he would hurt her in that way.

I also asked him about the musical background, which is one of the strongest elements of the book, as well as his particular instrument (he is a musician):

As for my main instrument, it’s French horn and keyboards (along with some trumpet these days). The reason I made Marta originally be a percussionist is because these musicians are very detail-oriented. If there’s any musician who’s dedicated to being perfect, it’s someone who plays percussion. The will spend weeks perfecting a drum rudiment, for instance, or hours learning how to shake a tambourine correctly. This is why Marta has so much trouble letting go and just singing, which is her big Achilles heel. This subplot is aimed more at musicians than the average reader since they’d get this, but even so, it is a bit of personal background (and also a reason for her reputation for somewhat wooden acting) that I hope lends a little more depth to her character. Musicians in the classical genre are generally expected to always be perfect. Marta has a lot of trouble with that.

Michael Stanley: Death of the Mantis

The third book in Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu series set in Botswana is the best one so far, which is saying a lot.  Stanley’s novels are a complex and nuanced look at Botswana and Southern Africa, combined with a good mystery puzzle and one of the best detectives in contemporary crime fiction.

Let me describe Kubu, and see if he sounds at all familiar to any crime fiction fan:  he’s overweight, doesn’t care, loves food and wine,  is a connoisseur of both, and is a brilliant detective.  While “Michael Stanley”  (actually two charming fellows, Stan Trollip and Michael Sears) discount any resemblance to Nero Wolfe, for any mystery fan, it’s plain to see the kinship between the two detectives.

Where Kubu (the Botswana word for “Hippo”) differs from Nero Wolfe is in his happy and committed homelife.  Also he has no servants. Also he will often and willingly leave home, though never without proper provisions. The snapshots of normal Botswanan family life are one of the strongest parts of  all the novels; in this one Kubu and his wife Joy are adjusting to life with their new daughter, Tumi.

The thing that made this book the strongest in the series, to me, was it’s portrayal of the culture of the African Bushmen, a tribe of tiny men and women who are able to disappear into the desert and regard all parts of life as interconnected: nature, men, animals.  To violate one part is to violate every other part and even yourself.

Africa and modern life are encroaching on the Bushmen.  As it happens, one of Kubu’s old school buddies is a Bushman, the two having bonded over being bullied in school (one for being fat, one for being a tiny member of another culture).  This man says passionately to Kubu:   “But what of the future?…The world is closing in like a pack of hyenas circling.  You can’t seal yourself in a time capsule and hope to escape.”

This passion on the part of Kubu’s old friend comes to light when two Bushmen are arrested for the murder of a government employee out in the Bush.  Kubu steps in and begins to unravel the case, one that leads to an obsessive mining prospector, looking for diamonds.  Like any good detective novelist, Stanley includes red herrings, plot twists, and unexpected developments along with good old fashioned police work and an adventure sequence in the wilds of Africa.

The grounding Stanley gives the novel in the culture of Botswana really makes it special.  The portions relating to the Bushmen and their culture make it sparkle even more – the virtual diamond already discovered by the reader.  Meeting Detective Kubu will likely make anyone want a closer acquaintance.  Here’s to many more novels in this wonderful series.

Arnaldur Indridason: Jar City

I think one of the definitions of noir is that the reader feels no sympathy even for the victim of the crime. The whole noir universe is so dark and corrupt that not even the victim can escape corruption. Iceland’s Indridason brings a humanity to the noir genre in the form of his detective, Erlandur, a man who literally has pains in his heart from dealing with the bleak world he sees every day as a policeman. When the detectives are called to the death scene of an old man, apparently randomly murdered with a strange and apparently meaningless message left on the body, one of them says, “Isn’t this your typical Icelandic murder?…Squalid, pointless and committed without any attempt to hide it…” They all agree, except for lead detective Erlandur, who is troubled by the apparently meaningless note, and later by a mysterious photograph of a grave.

The search for the grave in the photograph leads them to the terrible story of a young girl who died at age 4, her mother who committed suicide shortly after, and the realization that the child was the result of a rape committed by the recently murdered man. As the detectives delve into the dead man’s unsavory past, the seemingly simple story becomes more complex, and the claustrophobia of tiny Iceland becomes almost a part of the story. So also do the skills of Indridason as a novelist, seemingly simple, appear complex on reflection. The discovery of the “jar city” of the title – a loose arrangement where organs harvested from autopsies were kept in jars for research purposes – leads to a further reflection on the author’s part on the nature of collections, collectors, and databases. None of this is incorporated into the plot as a polemic but instead is seamlessly woven into the story itself, which is extremely compelling.

Like all good novelists, Indridason has a feel for plot, but also for well drawn and memorable characters who stay with you after you’ve closed the book because they are so vivid. Erlandur and his drug addicted, pregnant daughter, Eva Lind, are as central and meaningful to the book as the rest of the plot about the crime. There’s even a sidebar story about a missing bride that’s resolved along the way. In his skill and economy of storytelling, as well as it’s haunting aftertaste, Indridason more than resembles the great Ruth Rendell, another novelist of prodigious skill whose books are not just great mysteries but great novels. The story itself and the end of the book are heartbreaking, but what isn’t heartbreaking is to discover a writer of Indridason’s talent and depth.

Eric Stone: Shanghaied

“I love Chinese food. But sometimes China doesn’t do much for my appetite.” – Ray Sharp

Though this novel might at the beginning be categorized along with books by writers like Barry Eisler, Brent Ghelfi and maybe even Lee Child, half way through Stone turns his action story on its ear in an entirely unexpected way. This is the fourth book in a series featuring detective Ray Sharp, a Hong Kong based investigator who does “due diligence” investigations with his partner, the Chinese-Mexican dwarf, Wen Lei Yue. As the story opens Ray and Lei are looking into a missing monk. What they can’t decide is if the monk is just having a little illicit fun or if the monk is the money man for his well endowed monastery, in which case his disappearance is more worrisome.

The missing monk, however, is merely the kick off for a non stop action and adventure story through the streets of Hong Kong and eventually Shanghai. Stone is very adept at weaving the feel of the city into the narrative, so while you’re breathlessly following Ray and Lei on their quest, you’re also absorbing some details of life in Hong Kong. The book is set slightly in the past—on the day after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong by the British back to the Chinese. This is a place, the reader begins to feel, where anything might happen.

The complicated permutations of the plot eventually lead Ray and Lei to a shady banker, possible Triad involvement, and the workings of both slave labor and prostitution. The latter seems ubiquitous, and Ray—to his ultimate detriment—has a weakness for what his friend Lei calls putas. The complicated interweaving of his partner’s life and his, their mutual sense of right and wrong, and their dedication to uncovering the truth naturally lead them into a lot of trouble.

Most noteworthy is Lei’s growing involvement with a prostitute nicknamed “Big Breasted Korean Housewife”, someone who Ray has uncovered as an unlikely lead. When the monk is discovered murdered (not a surprise, really) the “Korean Housewife” is a big help to both partners. Unexpected to me was the shift in narrative about half way through the book from Ray to Lei, and the gruesome depiction of her re-addiction to heroin. To me this was the strongest, and most disturbing, part of the novel.

Also integral to the plot is a depiction of a factory in Shanghai where the “workers” have been brought in from the country on the promise of fantastic (to them) wages, and where they end up living as virtual slaves, indentured to the factory owners who use them more or less like animals. Also highlighted are the way so called “snakeheads” are paid a fantastic fee to bring human cargo across the ocean in metal containers (Jeffrey Deaver covers this same horrible topic in his excellent The Stone Monkey) on a similar promise, of better wages in Mexico or the U.S.

In the end, though, Stone’s focus isn’t on the society as a whole or even on the non stop action of the plot, but on the very human feelings and reactions of both Ray and Lei. If you’re like me these are characters that you’ll be invested in by the time you close the covers of the book—and you’ll want to know more. This is a well written and compelling book, and if you are at all interested in this area of the world, it’s well worth a look.