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by Lisa Brackmann
Soho, June 2013
371 pages
ISBN: 1616952342

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When a disabled vet asks Ellie McEnroe to go looking for his kid brother Jason, who has dropped out of sight and may be off his bipolar medication, it seems an impossible task. Sure, Ellie lives in China, where the young man vanished, but it's a big country. Still, she can't say no. Dog and Ellie served together in Iraq. When a buddy needs help, you help.

Besides, it seems a good time to get out Beijing. The pollution is terrible, her mother has come for an extended visit, and the Chinese version of the FBI wants to talk to her about an avant-garde artist friend who has gone underground. So she heads to Yangshuo, a famous tourist destination and the place from which the missing brother, Jason, sent his last postcard home. Once there, Ellie begins to figure out that Jason is on his own and it's not a place for tourists. Worse yet, it's soon obvious that she's not the only one on his trail.

The story is narrated by Ellie, a woman who is tough but scarred by war, full of a mix of brash self-confidence and doubt, stubbornly committed to the mission she's on, however hair-brained and dangerous, but prone to question herself every step of the way. She's funny and principled, but sometimes exasperating and very young.

This novel, a follow-up to ROCK, PAPER, TIGER, is strongest in its depiction of modern China. It's a shame it doesn't come with a map, since Ellie's search takes her from smoggy Beijing to the iconic foggy mountains of Yangshuo, to a grim city where the Western world's electronic trash is disassembled for its component parts, a place where the poverty is grinding and the toxins leach into everyone's lives. It's a country of contradictions, where Ellie can get a ride from impoverished farmers on an ancient tractor and later find herself whisked away by a wealthy businessman to his own personal Xanadu on his private jet.

All in all, Lisa Brackmann gives readers an memorable trip through a country full of surprises.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, June 2013

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