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Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

Bridge Across the Ocean, set in 2011-12, is the story of four MIT grads and entrepreneurs in their mid-thirties who founded Smithworks, a high-end custom bicycle maker, a decade earlier. Now Jedediah Smith, Shieh-Seng "Luke" Lin, David Bondsman and Rick Saundersson have invented the most innovative bicycle drive in history, the Spinner. A week before they are to leave for Taipei, Taiwan, to discuss a licensing agreement with Joyful Bike, the world's largest bicycle maker, Luke is killed by a hit-and-run driver. The remaining three persevere, but at Tokyo's Narita International Airport are set upon by two Japanese agents of business espionage. These "information worms" pursue the cyclists to Taipei and a game of espionage-counterespionage ensues. At Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, they are greeted by Jung-Shan Lai, Joyful's director of business development. The next day she introduces them to Joyful's president and CEO, Ming-Chang Zheng, who gifts them Joyful's most sophisticated, expensive carbon-fiber bikes. Jung-Shan takes them on some exhilarating rides along the rivers of New Taipei City, into the mountains north, and the Penghu Islands. The three Americans often find themselves experiencing culture shock, both social and business, while trying to thwart the attacks and intrusions by the Japanese information worms with Jung-Shan as their guide. The Americans are eager to make a deal, but Jung-Shan advises, “Business done quickly is business done badly.” Mr. Zheng works to knit four companies together to manufacture the Spinner in one of the most challenging business partnerships ever attempted. Will the Spinner deal be made? Will the espionage agents be caught? Will Luke’s killer be found and apprehended? How will things turn out for Jed and Jung-Shan?
Ex-counterintelligence officer Jed Smith and his partners at the New Hampshire-based Smithworks bicycle company have invented the Spinner, a revolutionary new bicycle drive. In the hopes of securing a groundbreaking deal, they travel to Taiwan to meet with Joyful Bike, a major manufacturer—but unfortunately they attract the attention of Japanese “information worms,” freelance corporate spies intent on stealing industrial secrets. Now the Smithworks team’s time in Taiwan is split between navigating Chinese culture and business protocol, and attempting to outwit their pursuers long enough to close the deal. Meanwhile, Jed falls for Joyful Bike’s attractive director of business development, Lai Jung-Shan, though a relationship between the two seems unlikely to succeed.

Rochester’s story is part thriller, part love letter to bicycling, and it’s clear he’s writing from a position of intimate knowledge and passion, as convincing atmosphere and minute detail color every page. He also brings that precision and thoroughness to the presentation of Chinese culture, etiquette, manners, and setting, immersing readers in the atmosphere and imagery along the way. While this verisimilitude is one of the story’s strengths, it also slows down the pacing, threatening to overload the reader with information and at times diminishing the focus on the heart of the narrative, which is the characters.

The information worms subplot, meanwhile, offers a strong hook, though the would-be thieves ultimately prove more of a nuisance than a true threat, with authorial intent breaking through to warn readers of the dangers of IP theft and corporate espionage. Meanwhile, Jed’s emerging connection to Jung-Shan as they navigate the opening stages of a relationship is enjoyable and natural, though there’s a subtle tendency to overly romanticize and exoticize Jeb’s attraction to the Taiwan-born woman, including his thinking of her as “inscrutable,” a term that has often been used by western writers to stereotype Asians. Despite these shortcomings, the overall story is engaging and smoothly told, and will interest cycling enthusiasts and readers fascinated by international business and real-world espionage.

Takeaway: A thriller with a human element, which will appeal to readers who appreciate bicycling and Chinese culture.

Great for fans of: Evan Osnos’s Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, Dave Eggers’s A Hologram for the King.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B+