Several years ago I stumbled upon Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger (Soho, 2010) and was blown away by her central character, Ellie McEnroe. I couldn’t remember a fictional character as brash and badass as Ellie. An Iraq War vet and recent Beijing transplant, Ellie became embroiled in a scandal involving her artist boyfriend, Lao Zhang. This book had all the elements of a contemporary thriller: war crimes, technology, and a sizzling cross-cultural romance.
Last year she came out with her second novel, Getaway (2012) which I reviewed here. This one was equally thrilling, but set in the sultry locale of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It’s the perfect summer mystery and when I read it I dreamed I was on a tropical beach, not my living room couch. Sigh.
And now Brackmann is back with her third novel and sequel to Rock Paper Tiger. Introducing Hour of the Rat (Soho, 2013)! Ellie McEnroe is back and she’s as edgy as ever. Or perhaps even more so than in Rock Paper Tiger. She is, after all, a seasoned Beijinger in this new book.
Ellie is still involved with her artist boyfriend Lao Zhang, but he’s in hiding and even she isn’t aware of his whereabouts. The state police is on her back and to make matters even more chaotic, her mother moves in with her. Ellie’s mom is flaky, unsure, and a bit naive. She soon follows her daughter’s lead and starts a relationship with a Chinese man, a neighbor who goes by the English name of Andy.
Soon after her mother’s arrival, Ellie hears from an old flame from her Iraq tour. Doug, or Dog as she calls him, has a brother named Jason who has gone AWOL and off his bipolar meds in none other than China. Now Dog wants Ellie to find him. As preposterous as it sounds, Ellie realizes that she might actually be able to locate Jason. The last time the family heard from Jason, he was in the scenic town to Yangshuo.
So without revealing her real reason for taking this trip, Ellie invites her mother on a vacation to Yangshuo. And her mother turns around and invites her new man, Andy, to tag along. When the lead in Yangshuo takes Ellie to Kunming, Shanghai, and other places scattered throughout China, she must come up with a way to ditch her mother and Andy.
A Chinese secret police named John who appeared in Rock Paper Tiger is back here and has his eyes on Ellie for more than one reason.
Lisa Brackmann has enjoyed a long history with China and was among the first Americans to study there in the late 1970s. But as with her first novel, Hour of the Rat is strictly contemporary with present-day settings and present-day issues.
I can’t wait see what she comes up with next!