A DEATH IN CHINA by Carl Hiaasen


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Art-historian Tom Stratton is on a rather dismal tour of China--when he bumps into his beloved mentor, Prof. David Wang, a Chinese-born US scholar who's in Peking to visit his long-estranged brother Wang Bin, Deputy Minister of Art and Culture. A couple of days later, however, Prof. Wang is reported dead, of a post-banquet heart attack ("Death by duck"). But why, if the death was natural, is Prof. Wang's passport missing? Why have pages been cut from his diary? And why do Wang Bin's henchmen try to kill Stratton when he starts asking a few questions? Wang Bin's rebellious daughter, the gorgeous Kangmei, is eager to help: she overheard her lather and uncle arguing. Soon the two of them are on the run, fleeing from cobras, torturers, and other Wang Bin specials--escaping thanks to Stratton's secret guerrilla-warfare expertise. (He's a Vietnam vet, haunted by civilian-killings during penetration missions into China.) And by the time that Stratton makes it alive to Hong Kong, he has caught on to what's going on: Wang Bin, in danger of political execution, is going to use his brother's body in a fake suicide. Furthermore, Stratton has figured out how Wang Bin is financing his secret flight and new life in America: he has been smuggling Chinese archaeological/art treasures to unscrupulous US dealers--in the coffins of American tourists who die while on tourist-trips to China. So the finale here features a series of ghoulish cemetery confrontations--as Stratton seeks revenge on the ruthless Wang Bin. . . while CIA agent Linda Greer gets caught in the crossfire while trying to keep the whole ugly affair under wraps. Montalbano and Hiaassen (Powder Burn, Trap Line) bog things down a bit with Stratton's Vietnam guilts--a stale thriller-element by now, and one that seems out-of-place amid the Buchanesque folderol. At the other extreme, the least serious moments here verge dangerously on Fu Manchu-vian cartoon. Still, a solid, lively thriller for the most part--with an efficient (if familiar) central plot, action that's scenic and varied, and loads of wry, unromanticized China atmosphere.
Pub Date: April 23rd, 1984
ISBN: 0375700676
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1984

Kirkus Interview
Carl Hiaasen
author of RAZOR GIRL
November 7, 2016

In Razor Girl, Carl Hiaasen’s new novel, when Lane Coolman's car is bashed from behind on the road to the Florida Keys, what appears to be an ordinary accident is anything but. Behind the wheel of the other car is Merry Mansfield—the eponymous Razor Girl—and the crash scam is only the beginning of events that spiral crazily out of control while unleashing some of the wildest characters Hiaasen has ever set loose on the page. There's Trebeaux, the owner of Sedimental Journeys--a company that steals sand from one beach to restore erosion on another…Dominick "Big Noogie" Aeola, a NYC mafia capo with a taste for tropic-wear…Buck Nance, a Wisconsin accordionist who has rebranded himself as the star of a redneck reality show called Bayou Brethren…and Andrew Yancy—formerly Detective Yancy, busted down to the Key West roach patrol after accosting his then-lover's husband with a Dust Buster. Yancy believes that if he can singlehandedly solve a high-profile murder, he'll get his detective badge back. That the Razor Girl may be the key to Yancy's future will be as surprising as anything else he encounters along the way—including the giant Gambian rats that are livening up his restaurant inspections. “How can Hiaasen possibly tie together all this monkey business in the end?” our reviewer asks in a starred review. “His delirious plotting is so fine-tuned that preposterous complications that would strain lesser novelists fit right into his antic world. Relax, enjoy, and marvel anew at the power of unbridled fictional invention.” View video >


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