PIRATE QUEEN by R. Allen Downey


: The Curse
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The cast of Kwatee (2005) reunites to retrieve microfilm stolen by Madame Lai, dreaded pirate queen of the South China Sea.

It’s 1954, and clairvoyant agents and soon-to-be-married couple Rick Reilly and Loo Tao-hua, aka Rick and Ricki, connive to attract the pirate queen’s attention with an elaborate con, putting word out that her film is fake and that they are in possession of the real deal–and offering it to the highest bidder. To this end, Rick and Ricki purchase a club as a front, and with Wiccan priestess Branwen Smythe reassemble a crack team from the Kwatee adventure. JD Chartier and his wife Anna, Homer Tingle and Benny Fink all converge on Macao to play their parts in the con. An ominous storm and forced crash landing, not to mention preternatural inklings on the part of our clairvoyants, suggest there’s more to the case than stolen film. In fact, there is something otherworldly about Madame Lai, whose touch turns brains to soup, and whose cohort, Captain Chen, unleashes centipedes on his victims. Covert operatives visit the back room of Rick’s Cabaré Americano where Ricki, also a part-time actress and singer, performs nightly. The con proceeds swimmingly. It’s spy versus spy in the alleys of old Macao–custom-tailored suits conceal pistols fitted with silencers, Rick and Ricki’s banter resembles The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora, and they run their operation with the cool of a Casino Royale James Bond. There’s even an inept duo of Chinese operatives named Yin and Yang, and a cop, Lt. Carlos Antonio Sebastian, who might have wandered in to investigate the surge of corpses popping up from unnatural causes. Downey’s book is epic pulp, blending fantasy, magical realism, intrigue and mystery, but descriptions and attempts at humor sometimes come off half-baked. The crescent moon, superimposing ominous horns over a mountain, is like “a letter C lying on its ass.” Smoke causes “a three-way cough-fest.” However, such turns of phrase aren’t entirely inappropriate in the off-kilter humor of a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite occasional stalls when characters recount, at length and without fresh information, events that have already been revealed, there’s much to engage and delight readers as this duo and their band sleuth toward the dark truth behind Madame Lai.

A light-hearted, heroic hash of genres.

ISBN: 978-1-4196-9086-0
Program: Kirkus Indie
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by Eli Brown