Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann (Soho Press, June 2013)-When Hour of the Rat opens, Ellie has settled in representing the work of of artist and former lover Zhang Jianli, who, after almost a year, still hasn’t returned to Beijing. She’s not exactly an expert on art, but she’s learning, and enjoying the element of stability it’s added to her life. There is one element of her life she’s not exactly thrilled with, however, and that’s the fact that her mother has come to visit, and as much as Ellie prods, she doesn’t seem eager to leave. Soon, an old friend from Iraq, who Ellie has a rather dubious history with, and who was seriously injured while there, contacts Ellie for a favor. His brother Jason has been missing for some time now, and hopes Ellie will try to track him down. All they claim to know is that he’s somewhere in China and that he has a history of unpredictable behavior. Ellie’s game to look into it, but when two policemen come to visit and escort her to a hotel room somewhere, a blast from her past is waiting for her. In fact, this particular cop, John, played a part in the events right after Zhang Jianli’s disappearance, and he didn’t quite endure himself to Ellie. They want more information on Zhang Jianli’s whereabouts, which Ellie really doesn’t have, but John seems keen to keep Ellie in the clear, so he urges her to cooperate however she can. So, with the cops off her back for now, Ellie packs up her mom, and a neighbor named Andy who her mom seems to have a thing for, and they head for Yangshuo, the only real lead they have on Jason. One thing for sure, it’s gonna be a helluva trip.
Ellie is a little bit older, and a little bit wiser since the events that occurred right after Zhang Jianli’s disappearance, but it hasn’t dampened her traveling spirit. In fact, if you loved the travel aspect of Rock Paper Tiger, you’re gonna love Hour of the Rat. The author picked some of China’s most mystical, eerie, and colorful places in which to drop her intrepid war vet and has ramped up the danger considerably. At first Ellie thinks she’s on the trail of a wayward young man, but soon finds out that he’s been labeled an ecoterrorist by the Chinese government, which certainly puts a damper on things. Soon Ellie discovers a series of videos shot by Jason, and uses these as the touch points in her investigation. Even John, the cop that has been looking over Ellie’s shoulder for so long, plays a big part in this one, and I admit to having a bit of a crush on him. Seriously, John is one of the best parts of this book, and you’ll get a kick out of Ellie’s mom and her friend Andy. As serious as events sometimes get, and they do, Lisa Brackmann always manages to insert a bit of levity so as to not let things get too bogged down, and it creates for a really fun reading experience. Again, as in Rock Paper Tiger, the author combines one part China travelogue, two parts mystery, and a healthy dose of quirky charm in Hour of the Rat. This is a perfect summer read for those looking for a mystery that’s off the beaten path!