Friday, May 22, 2020

Review of Rock, Paper, Tiger by Lisa Brackman (2010, Soho Press)

After recovering from a mortar blast that wrecked her leg, Iraq vet and medic Ellie Cooper followed her husband to China where he’s working for a black ops company after leaving the army. While living in Beijing they separate after Trey starts an affair with a Chinese woman. Ellie works in a bar and falls in with some artists, one of which is an occasional lover whose art is on the cusp of becoming highly bankable. Turning up at his apartment one evening she’s introduced to a Hashim, a dissident Uighur. Soon after the artist and the Uighur have disappeared and some shadowy associates of Trey, and possibly the Chinese security services, want to find them. They believe Ellie is the key to tracking them down and soon she too is on the run, guided by characters in an online game, unsure who to trust offline but aware of the potential consequences after what she witnessed of interrogations in Iraq. In Ellie, Brackman has created a character that is both world weary and a little naïve, out-of-place in China but with sufficient language proficiency and social understanding to survive. The tale tells of her time in Iraq where she drifted onto the fringes of torture interrogations of prisoners, to helping Chinese dissidents evade capture and the same fate. The story provides interesting detail and insight into both worlds, leading to a lengthy chase across China. It’s a pretty engaging story for most of the book, then it runs out of steam and fizzles out without any real resolution, as if Brackman wasn’t sure how to wrap up the intrigue. Which was a shame as it all seemed to be leading to a big denouement that never came.

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