Rock Paper Tiger

by Lisa Brackmann

Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jun 2010, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2011, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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BookBrowse Review

An American expat gets caught up in a web of terror in this debut mystery set in modern-day China

Let's consider some popular qualities of the modern-day thriller heroine: a painful incident in her recent past, residence in an exotic locale, a heightened ability to talk trash, and a complete inability to recognize danger as she walks right into it. Ellie Cooper has them all.

Sent into the Iraq War as a medic at the age of 19, where she lived through several highly traumatic incidents, she has washed up in China. Her post-traumatic stress disorder prevents her from doing much except drinking beer and hanging out with her friend Lao Zhang, occasionally showing up for her part-time job at a karaoke bar, and checking her email. As for talking trash and blithely putting herself in harm's way, she reminds me of Janet Evanovich's bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum. I hope that Lisa Brackmann wouldn't take that the wrong way; I happen to admire Stephanie Plum a great deal.

After Lao Zhang, an artist with democratic ideals, disappears leaving only a cryptic note, Ellie is pursued by agents of two separate security organizations and by Creepy John, a young Chinese man who claims friendship but exudes menace. Though she is never sure why these men are after her, she figures it's best to elude them. But despite her fears, Ellie is also seeking some kind of meaning and purpose for her life. The psychic undertow of her quest saves this pulsating tale of plot turns and hair-raising danger from being just another summer suspense thriller.

Brackmann has made regular visits to China since 1979; these first-hand glimpses of the country's development from the Cultural Revolution to the present give her descriptions of its cities, peoples and societal issues a compelling veracity. From reading her blog, I understand how she has been able to craft a novel that delves into war, terrorism, and international interpersonal relations with such a sense of authority.

Immediately after turning the last page, I thought the book would best be recommended to younger readers, aged twenty to thirty. Ellie Cooper is in her mid-twenties and I was so involved with her heart and mind that I felt that age myself, though I am way past it. But after a few days had passed, I decided that any reader who doesn't mind the language and some gritty violence would not only be entertained but enlightened about a country that looms so prevalently in our current world. Check out the first chapter here at BookBrowse and you'll know right away if it's for you.

Reviewed by Judy Krueger

This review was originally published in August 2010, and has been updated for the June 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

Beyond the Book

A Quick Tour of Chinese Cities Found in Rock Paper Tiger

Since the 2008 Olympics, China has become more of a tourist destination than ever. For those of us who haven't ventured that far, here is an overview of the cities where Ellie Cooper tried to elude her pursuers.

Beijing
Also known as Peking, Beijing is the capital of The People's Republic of China as well as its political, educational and cultural center. Both names are the transliteration of the sound of the Mandarin name, meaning "northern capital," which sounds something like "pay-cheeng" or "bey-jing." As of February 2010, the combined population of permanent and non-permanent residents exceeds 22 million. Here Ellie lives on coffee, beer and dumplings, and gets abducted by Creepy John while at a party on the Simatia portion of the Great Wall, on the outskirts of urban Beijing.



Taiyuan
Ellie takes a train to China's coal mining capital to get away from some nasty American security agents. No Starbucks there, so she has to subsist on Nescafe, and hangs out in an Internet café looking for clues. Taiyuan is considered to be one of the world's most polluted cities, though the air has improved somewhat in recent years with the closure of some factories due to the economy.



Xi'an
Harassed by China's Public Security Bureau agents, Ellie heads for Xi'an, one of the oldest cities in Chinese history, and one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China along with Beijing, Nanjing, Luoyang (though historical discoveries have expanded the traditional list to include seven cities). While posing as a tourist, Ellie has a local brew at a beer garden in the shadow of the Drum Tower.



Chengdu
Heading ever westward, she takes a train to Chengdu in Sichuan Province, the ancient center of Taoism in China. Called The Hibiscus City, it was the site of an earthquake in 2008, which killed tens of thousands of people. Ellie's quest leads her to the Taoist sacred site of Changqing Shan.

Reviewed by Judy Krueger

This review was originally published in August 2010, and has been updated for the June 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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