NOBLE HOUSE by James Clavell


Email this review


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


FictionGAI-JIN by James Clavell
by James Clavell
NonfictionWHIRLWIND by James Clavell
by James Clavell
FictionSHOGUN by James Clavell
by James Clavell


IndieDEW ON GINKGO LEAVES by Todd Shuler
by Todd Shuler