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At the beginning of this 1941 adventure-comedy, cheerfully crass American trader Glen Wasey is broke, stranded in Shanghai with a crate of novelty ties destined for Los Angeles. His only hope? To accept a job-offer from prim young missionary Miss Tatlock--who needs a Chinese-fluent guide to help her search for a missing cache of opium, to be converted into morphine for wounded Chinese soldiers. And, thus far, Kenrick's new novel promises odd-couple entertainment reminiscent of The African Queen or one of those Hollywood charmers that featured low-brow Clark Gable in tart combination with a high-class heroine. Unfortunately, however, the farce that follows is, despite a funny line here and there, increasingly lame and puerile. In quest of the opium (""Faraday's flowers""), Wasey goes on a repetitious series of wild-goose chases around the earthy sectors of Shanghai; he gets dunked in sewage, beaten up; he stumbles on a gruesomely dissected corpse or two; he's abducted and tortured by comic-book villains. Meanwhile, however, his sex-life is soaring--thanks both to Miss Tatlock (who turns sensual in order to keep Wasey on the job) and famous concubine China Doll (who demonstrates exotic three-way positions with the help of her maidservant). In fact, Wasey finds that all the people in Shanghai are ""either sadists or shit worshippers or sex maniacs."" And before unearthing the real flowers (they're jewels) and exposing the real villain (obvious), Wasey staggers through an enervating clutch of chases, brawls, fan-tan games, and shady dealings. The settings are occasionally grubbily exotic--though not in the same league with J. G. Ballard's compelling portrait of WW II Shanghai in Empire of the Sun (p. 760). Wasey comes through with an occasional bit of inspired, coarse giddiness. (After a live sex-show he cries ""Author! Author!"") But, too limp to generate suspense and too cartoony to sustain interest in the characters, this soon becomes a lumpy grab-bag of slapstick and sex: disappointing work from the author of--at his best--The Nighttime Guy (1979).

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday