NOBLE HOUSE by James Clavell


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There's nothing wrong with Clavell's new "Asian Saga" novel that cutting 900 pages wouldn't fix. No, that's not a misprint: at 1206 pp., this account of one interminable week in 1963 Hong Kong stretches out a conventional but adequate plot--financial deals plus criss-crossing spies--with awesomely tedious, constantly rehashing conversations; and, unlike Tai-Pan and Shogun, there's little Far Eastern exotica here to hold your interest while the padding mounts up. Primary focus is on Ian Duncross, new tai-pan of Hong Kong's oldest trading house--who's hoping to save Noble House from bankruptcy via a joint-venture deal with US entrepreneur Linc Bartlett, just arrived in HK with his right-hand woman, Casey. But Ian's plans are fraught with peril: Bartlett is an unscrupulous type who'll ditch the deal if he can find a better one; Ian's arch-enemy, Quillan Gornt of the Rothwell-Gornt house, is out to snatch up Noble House, with help from some shady bank-collapse and selling-short maneuvers; and Noble House employee John then (soon kidnapped and dead) has been peddling company secrets, even stealing the legendary half-coin (whoever possesses it can demand any favor of the tai-pan). So, while Ian goes from bank to bank and nation to nation looking for bail-out money (in case the Bartlett deal collapses), Clavell piles on the other half of the plot: the presence of secret communist agents in Hong Kong--at Noble House, in the police, even in British Intelligence. And there are also subplots galore: Chinese gold, gun, and drug smugglers; romances (Bartlett and a Eurasian, Casey and everybody); racetrack doings. Eventually, Ian will become entangled in the spy fracas--because he possesses documentary clues to the identity of the "moles"--and eventually Clavell also throws in some Mafia and Red-China touches. But just about everything is rendered moot by a landslide in the last 100 pages--some blessed action after acres of money-talk and who's-the-mole? jabber--and it all finally ends with the surfacing of that half-coin. Flat, colorless characters; slipshod, pulp-mag prose ("Are you the magic I've been seeking forever or just another broad?"); little suspense, violence, or sex. In other words, Dullsville--but the Clavell name will ensure big interest. . . at least until word-of-mouth takes over.
Pub Date: April 30th, 1981
ISBN: 0385343264
Page count: 1136pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1981


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