I had the pleasure of reading Lisa Brackmann’s book, Rock Paper Tiger, over the weekend. Well, “gobbled it up” is probably a better phrase — I started reading it at 2 P.M. on Sunday and read until I was finished. (I should tell you up front that I know Lisa through The Next Circle of Hell at the Absolute Write Water Cooler and love her posts, so there’s my bias up front.)
It’s not that often a book engages me as fully as this one did, but I’m a sucker for complex characters and an exotic setting. And you have to love the cover.
Brackmann sets her book in China, in Beijing. Her main character, Ellie McEnroe, is a separated woman on a disability pension, with all the feelings of loneliness and longing that go with being an outsider. She befriends a Chinese artist — they have a kind of a thing, but its parameters are not clear to her, or the reader –and then he goes missing.
When men in suits start looking for her, she runs, but as an American, she can’t hide. When she starts the search to find her missing friend, she finds an underground community of gamers and we find out why she’s running.
I love the outsider narrative (in this case first person). I can now imagine a China where it seems like all the buildings are faced in white tiles, and where every casual encounter results in the immediate, intrusive, “Are you married? Do you have children?”
But at the same time, the Chinese people she encounters come off as friendly, curious and almost too accommodating — in a situation where Ellie doesn’t know if she’s being invited in, or set up. All of this creates the tension I’ve blogged about before, that keeps a reader turning the page to find out what happens.
Rock Paper Tiger was an Amazon Top 100 Pick and an Amazon Top Ten Pick for Mystery/Thriller.
Now I didn’t think the mystery was quite strong enough or the action quite thrilling enough to be considered either a mystery or a thriller — although it edges into that territory. I think it’s literary fiction, and unlike much of the literary fiction I’ve read that so often lacks a plot, this book has one.
It also has lots of different strands — Brackmann introduces us to performance artists, gamers, Iraq, the military and post-9/11 security, and I’ve probably missed a few others. She manages to weave them together in a solid, satisfying read.
You can find out more about Rock Paper Tiger on Lisa’s terrific website, and you can follow her blog about her travels in China. Be warned, her blog is fascinating and addictive and her favourite luggage is pretty darned impressive.