I have such a large to-read pile that it sometimes feels overwhelming and impossible to get through. But when I recently received a copy of Charles Philipp Martin’s novel, Neon Panic (Vantage Point, 2011), I had to start it right away. As if the cover wasn’t enticing enough, the premise of the book–a police thriller set all over Hong Kong–was the clincher.
Inspector Lok is a fifty-something husband, father of three, and veteran of the Hong Kong Police Force. When he’s given a case involving an unidentified twenty-something female murder victim–found in the waters off of Kowloon–he’s not thrilled about the prospects.
After the Hong Kong Police Department learns the identity of the victim–an upwardly mobile gentleman’s club worker–they still have no clues except that Milkie Tang had had plastic surgery before she was murdered. So Lok and his cohorts talk to plastic surgeons around Hong Kong and eventually find the one who had operated on Milkie. The only other clue the cops uncover is that Milkie’s car was stolen when she went to the surgeon’s office one day before her procedure.
From there, the triads, business leaders, and members of the fictitious Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra come under question. The story is a fast-paced, plotting-twisting thriller that kept me captivated from the very start. I felt like I was back in Hong Kong and found myself nodding my head when I came across a cultural nuance I hadn’t thought about in years. One thing Charles Martin mentions in his author’s note at the beginning is that all the English names he uses in the book are ones he came across in Hong Kong. Milkie, Twinkie, Yorks, and Ambrose are just several examples.
Martin was a member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1980s and went on to live in Hong Kong for two decades before moving back to the US.
I hope we can read more of Inspector Lok in the near future. If so, I’ll report back here.