Book Reviews: Line of Fire by Stephen White, Lehrter Station by David Downing, and Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong

Line of FireLine of Fire
Stephen White
Dutton, August 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95252-7
Hardcover

In a note the author informs the reader that this is the next-to-the-last novel in the long-running series featuring psychotherapist Alan Gregory.  He intends to complete the series on his own terms because of the changing nature of the book industry with number 20.  Not many authors reach such a conclusion.  Even Ian Rankin had to bring back his popular Rebus protagonist.

And this book definitely sets the stage for that scenario.  The novel introduces a new patient, giving Alan some insights not only into that patient, but himself.  She also complicates his life in unexpected ways, especially as to Diane, his friend and partner.  And as usual, Boulder, CO, plays an important part in the story with brush fires raging and destroying homes.  Lastly, his friend, Detective Sam Purdy and he are exposed to unwanted risk as an old secret surfaces.

The novel slowly builds up as the various characters are brought into focus.  It is an insightful look at Alan Gregory and provides plenty of factors to consider looking forward to how the series will end.  I can’t wait to find out.  (Just an aside: the author says this is the right time to conclude the Gregory story.  Some readers may disagree. But, after all, it’s his decision alone.)

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lehrter StationLehrter Station
David Downing
Soho Crime, March 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61695-220-4
Trade Paperback

Five months after the fall of Berlin, this chronicle of the adventures of John Russell, the Anglo-American journalist, and his paramour, Effi Koene, the actress, continues.  Four previous “Station” novels carried them through the pre-war years in Berlin to Russell’s escape to England.  Now, his former Russian spymaster sort of blackmails him into returning to Berlin as a spy for both the Reds and the Americans. To sugarcoat the request, Effi is offered a starring role in a soon-to-be-made motion picture.

The couple returns to a devastated city, where the only rate of exchange seems to be cigarettes and sex.  No food, housing or other essentials, but a thriving black market.  The story continues with the history of the immediate post-war, including the beginnings of the Cold War and the plight of surviving Jews, with the British reluctance to allow emigration to Palestine and the Zionists’ attempt to get around the roadblocks.

The series is more than just run-of-the-mill espionage stories, but a reflection of the time and people in an era of mass murder and terrible war and its aftermath.  The descriptions of the rubble that was Berlin after the Allied bombings and the Russian rape (it is said that there were as many as 80,000) is terrifying.   And the depiction of the duplicity of the U.S. and Soviet intelligence agencies is despicable, especially when they overlooked Nazi backgrounds when they served a purpose.  Presumably, there is room for a new effort in the series, and we look forward to it.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2013.

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Don't Cry, Tai LakeDon’t Cry, Tai Lake
An Inspector Chen Novel
Qiu Xiaolong
Minotaur Books, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-02158-8
Trade Paperback

While ostensibly a murder mystery, this latest Inspector Chen novel is more a polemic concerning excessive pollution, economic growth at any cost and the political and social system in China today.  Still, it is so well-written, filled with poetic references as an integral part of the whole, that it is a worthy addition to the series.

Initially, Chen is invited to spend some vacation time at an exclusive resort for upper cadre (of which he isn’t one) by his mentor in Beijing who was scheduled to use a villa there.  So, right off the bat, the author offers observations on how the upper layers of officials benefit, while the rest of the population doesn’t have such luxuries.  Then Chen learns that the once pure waters of Tai Lake have become so polluted that fish are destroyed, the water can’t be drunk and even causes illness to inhabitants.  The pollution is caused by industrial waste, unimpeded in the interest of profits and “progress.”

No sooner does Chen arrive than the general manager of a large chemical company is found murdered and Chen becomes involved, without disclosing himself as a Chief Inspector, in an unofficial investigation.  He learns about the pollution from a young female engineer, and works behind the façade of a local policeman, observing, questioning and deducting in typical Chen fashion, including a long T.S. Elliot-type poem about the lake.  Other than the murder solution, the criticism of societal and economic conditions in China is anything but subtle.  [I wonder if the novel will ever be translated into Chinese.]  Here, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2013.

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