A crime drama that jumps back and forth between China and Ireland during the turbulent first third of the 20th century.
Mikie Gallagher grew up in Ireland at a time when nationalist sentiments ran high. His father was a hard-nosed cop who was committed to the independence of Ireland from British rule, but equally observant of the rule of law, and as a result, deeply critical of violence as a means to end the occupation. As a young child, Mikie meets Fiona, the beautiful, young daughter of Lord Burleigh, and immediately falls in love with her. Irish nationalists burn her castle to the ground, killing Lord Burleigh and Mikie’s father. Fiona’s body is never recovered and she’s presumed dead. Partly out of anguish and partly because Fiona often spoke of her dream to visit Shanghai, Mikie travels to that city to join an elite constabulary force. There he encounters a general antipathy toward his presence and a vast and dangerous world of underground crime. He also struggles to understand a nation that’s culturally separate from his, but that’s also experienced the humiliation of occupation. Overall, the action in this novel is fast and crisp throughout, and debut author O’Sullivan has a powerful grasp of both Irish and Chinese culture. For example, at one point, Mikie’s Chinese counterpart marvels, “We find your demeanour towards life to be inexplicable. The West can rise heroically to a war or a natural disaster but show an unbearable temper when meeting small discomfort.” There are so many twists and turns and distracting, gratuitous subplots that it’s easy for readers to miss the narrative forest for the trees. Still, this mystery thriller manages to provide more than enough well-rendered excitement to sustain readers’ attention.
A historical novel with an overly complex plot, mostly redeemed by its brisk pace.