I’ve just finished the second book in the Ellie McEnroe series by Lisa Brackmann, Hour of the Rat. I’m reading this series as part of Soho Crimes 25th Anniversary Read Along. Soho Crimes is celebrating 25 years of publishing international crime fiction with a challenge to read a particular author’s series. I chose Lisa Brackmann.
About the book (from the publisher): Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance has attracted the attention of Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving.
But things get really complicated when Ellie agrees to help out an old Army buddy with his search for his missing brother. Ellie finds herself entangled in a conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire, and lots of cats – a conspiracy that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful and most surreal places..
My review: I reviewed the first book in this series, Rock, Paper, Tiger, here. The great thing about this challenge is the chance to read a new-to-me author. The bonus? I really love this series. In the first book in the series, we met Ellie McEnroe, an Iraq War veteran living in China, after having followed her husband there. Ellie’s leg was injured in Iraq, and she has suffered physical and emotional damage from her time there. When her marriage breaks up, Ellie finds herself staying in Beijing.
Modern day China is fascinating to me. Having no real sense of what life is like there, I’m thrilled that Lisa Brackmann can paint such a vivid picture of daily life in Beijing, as well as life in smaller towns throughout the country. She has a gift for describing the details of the scenery, the topography, the hustle and bustle, as well as the quiet of more rural areas.
There’s always the threat of government interference – whether it be in the form of censorship, or in the form of those who would monitor any ‘suspicious’ activities.
This time, Ellie’s mother is visiting and Ellie is balancing her need for privacy with her love for her mom. When a friend from Iraq asks her to check on his brother who is in China and has disappeared, Ellie takes on the search as a favor to her friend and as a way to get away for a while.
I love Brackmann’s writing style, all from Ellie’s first person point-of-view. She’s young, she’s edgy, more than a bit cynical, and has a need to solve mysteries. She’s a good person coping with life in a foreign country, with shadowy figures never far from view.
She also has a gift for characterization; describing the people of China – from sophisticated urban dwellers to farmers and shop owners. You will find yourself thinking of China and life there long after you reach the final page.
The plot in this book is complex and well written. The tension builds until the the final pages. Who can Ellie trust? Who might be watching her, tracking her movements? Brackmann is a skilled writer and, in Ellie, she’s created a fascinating protagonist, with guts and moxie.
I love that feeling of not wanting to put a book down. I’ve felt that with both books in this series. Well done!
I really love this series and look forward to reading the next book, Dragon Day.
About the author: Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several ‘Best of 2010’ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Books and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers and was a New York Times best seller. Her second novel, Getaway, a thriller in Mexico, was chosen as an ALA Summer Reading Pick and was a finalist for SCIBA’s T. Jefferson Parker Award. Lisa’s latest book, Hour of the Rat, features the return of Ellie McEnroe on another wild adventure in today’s China. Hour of the Rat was shortlisted for Left Coast Crime’s Calimari (international mystery) award and was nominated for an Anthony Award for Best Audio Book. The third Ellie McEnroe novel, Dragon Day, was published in August 2015.
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