CHINESE BURN by Eric Clark


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David Piper, the bland narrator-hero of this formulaic, Buchanesque thriller, is an American engineer who eagerly grabs a consultant job in China: he's supposed to study the railway-traffic situation between Nanjing and Shanghai. Before Piper can get down to work, however, he's caught up in the dangerous world of espionage--when a would-be USSR defector invades Piper's hotel-room and begs him to summon help from the US Embassy. And sure enough, by the time Piper returns from a trek through Embassy bureaucracy, the defector has vanished (soon turning up dead), the hotel-room has been ransacked. . . and it's clear that some super-secret papers are very much in demand. Does Piper have them? Not as far as he knows. (He later realizes that there's a secret stash of microfilm in one of his bags.) But everyone else seems to think that Piper has top-secret info: the Chinese officials, a Chinese dissident group (Gang of Four supporters), and maybe USSR agents too. So, after some scary interrogations and near-fatal encounters, Piper takes 39 Steps-style flight, complete with reluctant female accomplice: his lovely Chinese interpreter/guide Ming. The destination? Shanghai, 200 miles away--where a safe US contact (provided by the Embassy) awaits. The modes of transport? Bicycles, trains, small boats, and walking. And along the way Piper hides inside a village-festival dragon, undergoes acupuncture, steals a locomotive, falls in love with Ming (of course), and reaches Shanghai alive--only to discover that there's a double-agent among his American rescuers. Utterly routine and highly implausible in plotting, with none of the grab of Clark's best suspense (The Sleeper)--but readers may forgive the predictability (and the thick British accent of Piper's supposedly American narration)in order to enjoy the richly detailed, well-researched Chinese backgrounds.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Little, Brown