After learning that his father's murder was committed not by a burglar, as reported, but by members of a Chinese crime syndicate to which the old man had secret ties, California college senior Victor Li risks his life to find the killers.
The kind, upstanding father, Vincent Li, was thought to be the owner of a popular chain of restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley but in fact was only the public face of the Chinese-run operation. Victor has no idea what to make of an attaché case left by his father containing a wad of cash, a fake passport, and a gun. In a letter meant to be read in the event of his death, Vincent explains everything, instructing his son on how to avenge his killing and prevent more deaths. That involves going to Beijing with Vincent's longtime fixer, Sun. In China, the collegian's neophyte nerves are quickly tested by members of the nasty, drug-dealing Snake Hands Gang, a former Russian spy living in exile, and a plot to export stolen human organs to America. It's a perfectly decent story, but for all of the protagonist's f-bombs and a grim account of his paternal grandfather's brutal treatment in Communist labor camps, the book is too lightweight to have any emotional impact. Victor, who narrates, makes much of his life in basketball (he's a bench player on the college team whose much taller black friend Andre brings home the glory), but that adds less dimension than distraction.
Nieh's debut novel is likable enough but never as exciting as it tries to be.