Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann (Soho, June 2010)-Ellie McEnroe followed her husband to China a few years back when he got a job with a private security firm. Little did she know that it would lead to their divorce. Well, not yet exactly, since she hasn’t signed the divorce papers, and making him wait might be petty, but it’s the only revenge she has right now. For the time being, she’s renting a room in one of many abandoned high-rises in Beijing and spending lots of time with friend/lover Lao Zhang, an up and coming name on the Chinese art scene. One day, when he stops by Lao Zhang’s apartment, she realizes Zhang isn’t there, but someone else is, a Uighur (Chinese Muslim) man whom she only interacts with briefly. Soon after, she finds herself questioned by authorities and tailed by other shady folk, including US operatives, that all of a sudden have her on their radar.
Poor Ellie. She’s just trying to live her life quietly and now she’s got secret police and thugs gunning for her on every corner. Her soon to be ex-husband also seems to have something to do with these new developments and keeps sending her emails urging her to cooperate. The problem is, Ellie’s not sure what, or who, she needs to cooperate with. Soon she’s contacted by an online group in the form of a MMOG who claims to want to help Zhang. Figuring out who is friend, and who is foe won’t be easy, and the game’s clues will lead her all over China. However, Ellie resolves to see this thing to the end, whatever the outcome.
Rock Paper Tiger works on a few levels. On one, it’s a compelling mystery; on another, it’s a character study of a very wounded warrior (physically and mentally), whose recklessness is sometimes surprising considering the possible consequences. On yet another level, Rock Paper Tiger is a riveting travelogue of modern day China. Ellie is really, really hard not to like, and she hides some pain and guilt from her time in the Iraq War that she carries with her always. Like I said, there are times when Ellie is so reckless that I winced for her, but you have to keep in mind, she’s still young and living in a dichotomous place that both inspires taking chances and encourages living within a very strict set of rules. It’s Ellie’s flaws and humanity that make her such a charming heroine, and though she does find herself in some pretty sticky situations, she’s definitely not helpless. Rock Paper Tiger is a surprising novel in many ways, smartly written, frequently funny, and always entertaining. Lisa Brackmann is a singular talent and makes getting hooked on this quirky mystery very easy, indeed.