A U.S. government investigator vanishes while on assignment in China. After a suspiciously inadequate official inquest, the missing investigator’s family hires former special agent Lars Severin to find out what truly happened to her. Severin's clandestine quest casts him into a labyrinth of double-dealing and conspiracy, taking him from the misty alleys of Seattle's old Chinatown, to the corridors of power of Washington, D.C., to the dazzling modern city of Shanghai, to the ancient heart of rural China. The case grows more complicated with each step he takes, until all at once Severin realizes that his own life is in great danger.
While the investigation unfolds at a steady pace, Severin and Zhang spend their downtime drinking and exploring Severin’s troubled psyche as Alexander digs deep into his lead’s troubled state. Mired in depression, blacklisted by powerful enemies, and haunted by ghosts from his days as a homicide detective, Severin considers himself a “defrocked alcoholic burnout.” But once he takes the case the dust shakes of his wings: picking locks and pressing witnesses are second nature, even though hardboiled Severin insists on pretending he’s only in it for the money. Zhang’s companionship is also more important than Severin wants to admit, and it’s not until a violent attack leaves Zhang barely alive that Severin’s defenses finally begin to crumble, as he realizes Zhang is his last link “to how things used to be.”
The focus on Severin’s redemption is at times on-the-nose, but readers who love seeing down-and-out investigators bounce back will relish his transformation. Some incidental characters appear and vanish too quickly to register with much power, but the plotting is deep and layered, and fascinating settings are rendered in immersive detail, from a posh enclave in the San Juan Islands to colonial relics in old Shanghai. Alexander is a former federal agent whose knowledge of tariff policy and Washington bureaucracy lends authority to the finer details of “antidumping” investigations, an obscure topic readers will come away feeling expert in.
Takeaway: Slow burn mystery set amid a fascinating corner of international corporate crime.
Comparable Titles: Nelson DeMille, Brian Haig’s Man in the Middle.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
"Entertainment so involving you won't realize you're being educated too."
"A compelling read. Lars Severin is an unusual sleuth on an unusual mission. The dialogue is witty, the plot intriguing, and the settings enthralling. Severin is chasing answers in Washington D.C. and China with billion-dollar consequences. His questions might just get him killed – but by who?"