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.
I'm living in this dump in Haidian Qu, close to Wudaokou, on the twenty-first floor of a decaying high-rise. The grounds are bare; the trees have died; the rubber tiles on the walkways, in their garish pink and yellow, are cracked and curling. The lights have been out in the lobby since I moved in; they never finished the interior walls in the foyers outside the elevator, and the windows are boarded up, so every time I step outside the apartment door Im in a weird twilight world of bare cement and blue fluorescent light.... continued
From the author...
"Rock Paper Tiger is an example of my "magpie" method of plotting take a bunch of unrelated things swirling around in the ether and see if I can somehow make them go together. This is how I ended up with a novel involving the Chinese art scene, the War on Terror, fugitive Uighurs, online gaming and the Iraq conflict..." Read more at lisabrackmann.com.
Coming Soon: Soho Press, Lisa Brackmann's publisher, say that there are plans for a sequel to Rock Paper Tiger, but not for a bit as, in May 2012, they will be publishing Brackmann's second novel, Getaway, a stand-alone thriller.
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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