Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ellie's in Danger in China, in DRAGON DAY, Lisa Brackmann

If only this were the "old days," when the death of Sherlock Holmes could be reversed by reader pressure ... If only DRAGON DAYS were not the finale of Lisa Brackmann's cutting-edge Ellie McEnroe series ... Then again, knowing before opening the book that this is The End gives extra sharpness to the start of this fast-paced crime thriller set in today's Shanghai and beyond. But omigosh, I don't want to say goodbye to Ellie, or "Yili" as she's called by her Chinese friends. Nor do I want those strands of suspense and adventure from Rock Paper Tiger and from Hour of the Rat to finally be knitted up.

But that's what California author Lisa Brackmann announced, along with Soho Crime, and that's that. If you haven't read the earlier two books, you'll still be able to enjoy every crazy moment of DRAGON DAY -- but if you have the time, dive into them first. It will add to the sense of danger that Ellie can't avoid, as her underground artist friend Lao Zhang announces he's coming back to the Beijing to confront the dangers that Ellie's been handling on his behalf. Well, she was only supposed to handle his artwork, the way an agent would. But the art and its sales are banned, the government and police of at least one country, probably two, are watching her every move (and email), and as a result, business hasn't been great.

Moreover, unscrupulous and powerful (and murderous) art collector Sidney Cao has Ellie in his debt -- he saved her life in an earlier book -- and there are tasks he wants her to tackle for him, in terms of his overprivileged and even more unscrupulous grown children. Tasks that force her into uneasy and unpleasant collusion with the same secret police who keep trying to force her to betray Lao Zhang. Sheesh!

Actually, Ellie's a lot more, umm, direct in her language. An Iraq War vet with lasting pain and a Percocet habit to go with it, she's beyond blunt. Plus, she's in something suspiciously like an intimate relationship with an undercover Chinese cop. Oops. She nicknamed him Creepy John a long time ago, but he's a lot more supportive of her than, say, her mom who's mostly living with her. Maybe that's because he knows what's going on:
"Maybe I can find out what they want from Zhang Jianli, what they say he did," John says, and he's making an effort to sound calm. Like it's no big deal. "He's just an artist. Maybe it isn't so bad."

I  don't know who he's trying to convince: me or himself.

"It doesn't matter what he did." Suddenly I'm so tired that I can't even hold my head up anymore. "It's whatever they want it to be, right?"

Because if there's anything I've learned, it's that sometimes there's no reason for any of it. Sometimes it's just wrong place, wrong time. Somebody with power gets a bug up his a**. Like the musical where the hungry guy steals the loaf of bread and the cop gets the hard-on of all hard-ons over it.

John rests his hand on mine, just for a moment, then pulls it away, like he's embarrassed.

"Try not to worry, Yili."

If that's too strong for you, the rest of the book won't be a good fit, as Sidney Cao's demands force Yili into situations full of sexual perversion (which thank goodness she only has to witness), family menace, and more than one mutilated body of an otherwise nice person. But if you enjoy noir, and the grim politics of global power, interspersed with humor and even some tenderness, well, DRAGON DAY was released today -- there's a copy waiting for you. (I strongly suggest getting all three in this series; it will be three great rides.)

Brackmann's quirky preface in Ellie's voice, reminding us that she was born in a year of the sheep (in the Chinese zodiac) but that China itself is nearly synonymous with dragons -- could there be a dragon in the sheep, or a sheep inside the dragon? -- is fair warning of the knotted problems ahead, and the potential for explosion as Lao Zhang's reappearance comes closer.

And it's worth guessing whether the book will end with dragon fire or sheep warmth.

Now that I have Ellie McEnroe permanently under my skin, I confess I'm very curious about Brackmann's next direction. Knowing how the publishing world works, I guess it will be about six months until hints emerge. Guess I have time to re-read the series, before that happens!


Timothy Hallinan said...

That's a wonderful review, Beth, and I agree with every word of it. Lisa knocks me out.

Beth Kanell said...

Thanks, Tim -- the Soho Crime authors are amazing, you and Lisa included.