From the Publisher
Praise for HOUR OF THE RAT
Mystery Scene Magazine Favorite Reads of 2013
A Los Angeles Times Summer PageTurner
“A smart, jaw-droppingly good thriller, often hilarious, set in a revelatory depiction of modern China. Hour of the Rat should make Lisa Brackmann a star.”
—Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender series
"A rocking sequel.... [Ellie McEnroe's] motives, her dogged determination, and her burning sense of moral outrage will be familiar to anyone who's ever read Chandler's The Long Goodbye... Brackmann captures it all with an unflinching honesty and frank sense of moral unease that strips bare the romance myths of the 'New China'—and of the old capitalism running amuck."
“A totally genius novel: smart, funny, dark, hip... exquisite. She had me in a choke-hold of utter happy reading splendor from, literally, the first sentence, and never let up. Also, I think I could hang with Ellie McEnroe forever. Definitely the woman I want along on my next wild jaunt across Asia.”
—Cornelia Read, author of the Madeline Dare series
"If you’re shopping for someone who enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander books and is looking for something new to read, pick up the two Ellie McEnroe mysteries by Lisa Brackmann,Rock Paper Tiger and Hour of the Rat.... the combination of a strong female protagonist, a Chinese setting, and engrossing mystery plots results in books that I think any grown-up fan of Nancy Drew would enjoy finding in her Christmas stocking."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“The latest Ellie McEnroe China mystery (see Rock Paper Tiger) is a fabulous thriller that vividly brings to life Beijing and the rural countryside. Ellie is terrific.”
—Midwest Book Review
“China’s a big country, and as the foul-mouthed, pill-popping vet travels from tourist trap to toxic wasteland and back, her journey becomes one of disenchantment, frustration and anger.... this book—and the fingers it points—matter.”
—January Magazine, Best Books of 2013
"Nail-biting... Brackmann touches on issues ranging from pollution to evangelical Christianity."
—South China Morning Post
"Imbued with vivid detail about contemporary China."
—Time Out Beijing
“Modern China, with all its beauty and blemishes, comes alive as the story unfolds. Ellie pops her pain pills, drinks her beer, offers wry observations, and follows clues from one city to another across vast, cipherlike China... Beautiful lakes lie under magical mountains at one stop. Revolting rivers of sludge foul the air at another.... [Hour of the Rat] features an enjoyably profane protagonist and is peopled with characters who will take up residence in the reader’s mind, setting up an itch that can only be satisfied by another novel from this author.”
“Brackmann’s easy familiarity with everyday life in China lends a fascinating multiculturalism to her writing. Nods to local cuisine, Chinese slang and dress help paint a vivid picture of that country.... [Ellie] always entertains.”
“A finely honed thriller.... Brackmann is as adept at bringing China’s densely populated cities and breathtaking landscapes to life as she is at depicting her flawed but appealing characters and twists and turns galore.”
“One of the best thrillers of the year.... Brackmann has topped off a perfect, darkly humorous, hip novel and gone one better by writing dialog that is Chandleresque yet thug modern. She has set the bar high for anyone wishing to write at the top of their game in the noir genre.”
“This mystery-thriller set among China's expat community is both a fascinating character study and a transportation in place. Brackmann's descriptions of China make me feel like I've been there. Plus, Ellie says what all of us are thinking. Love her!”
"[Brackmann] somehow manages to weave together a perfectly logical story with Uigar dissidents, a subversive online game, and the Chinese art world, without ever bogging down in explication. There aren’t many writers who could pull all that off, maintain suspense, and be funny, too."
—Long Beach Gazette
“Brackmann's crime fiction is exhilarating and compelling, and I had no regrets about trading in my preconceptions about China, to absorb both the current issues and the clear passion that Ellie has for the place and its diversity.”
—Beth Kanell, Owner, Kingdom Books
“One part China travelogue, two parts mystery, and a healthy dose of quirky charm. This is a perfect summer read for those looking for a mystery that’s off the beaten path!”
—My Bookish Ways
Praise for ROCK PAPER TIGER
“Don’t turn the pages too fast. Brackmann’s evocation of China, funny, frustrating, frightening, sometimes tender, and always real, is worth savoring.”
—Nicole Mones, author of Lost in Translation and The Last Chinese Chef
“Lisa Brackmann’s novel gets off to a fast start and never lets up…. Ellie is a perfect spunky heroine…. be prepared for a wild ride.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Recommendation for More Thrills: This pulse-racer about an American Iraq-war vet is set in the art world of Beijing.”
“Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel is as slick and smart as an alley cat…. Beijing in Rock Paper Tiger is as it is in real life: fast, furious, often ugly, and with a Starbucks sitting on every corner.”
—Time Out Beijing
“Summer reading recommendation. “The contemporary China so vividly rendered in Lisa Brackmann's bracing debut novel is a place where the Starbucks baristas ‘all know the English words for coffee'’ and housing developments are named after glamorous U.S. hotspots… Rock Paper Tiger is a gripping ex-pat nightmare that unfolds with superb pacing and salient details. And it makes you damned glad your life is boring.”
“A remarkable debut… Brackmann paints a mesmerizing picture of life in jittery modern Beijing.”
“Lisa Brackmann’s timely and hip debut novel is a thriller with a plucky heroine, locales actual and virtual, and grounding in the Abu Ghraib scandal…. Brackmann can write.”
“At the top of the Most Promising New Author list is Lisa Brackmann with Rock Paper Tiger... a terrifying tale of life and death behind the Bamboo Curtain.”
—San Diego Union Tribune
“Rock Paper Tiger is a splendid debut novel by a gifted new writer. Her Chinese setting is exotic and chilling, and the characters live and breathe. The story is smart and fast as a sports car. Keep an eye on Brackmann.”
—T. Jefferson Parker, author of The Renegades and Iron River
“Few writers would be up to the challenge of blending the worlds of urban China, Iraq, and a virtual online kingdom—but Lisa Brackmann wildly succeeds. Prepare to taste the smog, smell the noodles, and rub the Beijing dust between your fingers.”
—Eliot Pattison, author of the Edgar award-winning novel, The Skull Mantra
“A terrifying odyssey in present-day China.... A totally captivating page-turner with vivid, first-hand details and nuanced multi-cultural facets.”
—Qiu Xiaolong, author of The Mao Case
“Electrifying debut... the book’s exotic setting and tough heroine will definitely appeal to fans of John Burdett and Steig Larsson.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“A fast-paced and engaging story as both plots are full of mystery and suspense… Good reading for anyone interested in the international crime novel.”
“A gritty and intriguing tale of terror that draws in the reader with each page; Brackmann is a new writer to watch.”
Brackmann’s finely honed second thriller featuring Ellie McEnroe (after 2010’s Rock Paper Tiger) finds the Iraq war vet working in China as an art dealer for political fugitive Lao Zhang. The good news: Ellie loves living in Beijing, and her business is thriving. The bad news: her ne’er-do-well mother is staying with her, and fellow vet Doug “Dog” Turner’s brother, Jason, has gone missing somewhere in China. Ellie decides to ask around about Jason, but must tread carefully, as she’s still under surveillance by the Chinese secret police, who at one point haul her in “for tea.” After her release, Ellie travels into the countryside with her mother looking for Jason, an activist on the run from shadowy Chinese and American businessmen. Brackmann is as adept at bringing China’s densely populated cities and breathtaking landscapes to life as she is at depicting her flawed but appealing characters and twists and turns galore. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (June)
Imagine you are only 27 and have already survived the Iraq War, a jerk of an ex-husband, a busted-up leg, and, to top it all off, the Chinese Secret Service is keeping tabs on you. Meet Ellie McEnroe. She lives in China, which allows her to groom her career as an art dealer for Chinese political artists. The problem is the DSD, or the Chinese FBI, is out to interrogate her about some of her clients. It’s time to move along, and Ellie heads to the famous tourist destination of Yangshuo to help a war buddy track down his brother. Hence begins a wild trip through China as Ellie tries to find said brother and stay out of trouble herself.
Verdict Brackmann, author of the well-received Rock Paper Tiger and The Getaway, has crafted another fresh crime novel for hard-core fans who like reads that are slightly off-kilter and don’t quite follow genre conventions.Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Brackmann resurrects her war-weary heroine Ellie McEnroe and sets her off in a new adventure in this follow-up to her first novel (Rock Paper Tiger, 2010). Ellie, or Yili, as she is known in China, represents a major Chinese artist, but she has to walk a careful and very thin line to avoid ending up the focal point of the Chinese police, who are very interested in both that artist and his activities. When she's picked up for questioning and comes away convinced that it's time for them to lay low, she sees the opportunity to leave town and do a friend a favor at the same time. If only she didn't have to drag her mother and her mom's latest boyfriend, a nice, older Chinese guy named Andy, with her, it might be perfect, but alas, mom is visiting China and shows no inclination of returning home to the U.S. So when Doug, whom she knows as Dog, asks her to find his brother, Jason, Ellie, mom and Andy set off to find him. Andy and mom keep busy seeing the sights, but Ellie, who left Iraq with a badly injured leg, starts inquiring about the missing Jason and discovers that Dog's brother is a lot more than he seems at first. After being followed, attacked and interrogated, Ellie finds herself getting closer to the truth, but the real question is: How much of it does she really want to know? Brackmann's easy familiarity with everyday life in China lends a fascinating multiculturalism to her writing. Nods to local cuisine, Chinese slang and dress help paint a vivid picture of that country. What the story lacks is focus; most of the time that Ellie is looking for Jason, she seems to be wandering around without a specific goal. Brackmann's likable protagonist always entertains, but the plot lacks cohesiveness.
Read an Excerpt
I seriously need to get out of Beijing.
There’s the fact that the air is trying to kill me. No joke. The American embassy over in Chaoyang does readings of the air quality in Beijing, since the Chinese government doesn’t, or won’t reveal the results anyway. A while ago it was so polluted that they ran out of normal descriptions and came up with one of their own, so what went out over Twitter was that the air was “crazy-bad.”
Thanks, guys. Remind me not to breathe.
There’s also that it’s been another long winter, and while you think I’d know what’s coming after three years, it still takes me by surprise: months of wind so cold and dry that sometimes I feel like I’m breathing razors. Now that it’s the last day in February, temps are getting up above freezing at least, but it’s still the kind of cold that settles into your bones and makes my leg ache even more than it usually does.
My apartment’s comfortable. There’s a central furnace that controls the radiators in the living room and the two bedrooms; the enclosed balconies provide a buffer against the chill. I broke down and got a cheap flat-screen at Suning, and I have a stack of DVDs from my favorite DVD store off Andingmen, every American movie or TV show you could want. I’ve got take-out menus from half a dozen restaurants, and right at the end of the alley there’s a great jiaozi place and some snack stands, plus there’s a tiny store about the size of my bathroom that sells toilet paper and Yanjing beer and a bunch of snack foods, including my favorite spicy peanuts, that’s just across from the entrance to my apartment complex.
So it’s not like I really have to leave my apartment all that much right now. Or go very far if I do.
It’s just that I can only take so much of my mom without a break, and I’ve about reached my limit.
“Ellie, do you know where’s the best place for me to find peanut butter?” she asks from the doorway to my bedroom. “And chocolate chips?”
“Any of the foreign supermarkets’ll probably have them,” I say. I’m sitting on my bed with my laptop propped on a pillow on my legs. I don’t really look up. She’s always asking questions like this, and I admit I tune them out a lot of the time.
“Really? Because I went to . . . what’s the name of that French one? Carrefour? And they had peanut butter, but it was chunky and I need smooth. And I didn’t see any chocolate chips at all.”
“I don’t know,” I mutter. “You could always buy chocolate bars and hit them with a hammer.”
“I guess I could.”
Now I do glance away from my screen. There’s my mom, her streaked, bleached hair rising in a halo of static, wearing a SunRise T-shirt (I'VE FOUND MR. RIGHT AND HE'S PERFECT! ISAIAH 62:5) and sweats, solid through the middle like a pound cake, the bramble-rose tattoo above her elbow sagging a bit, which is what happens with a tat inked twenty-five years ago.
“Aren’t you cold?” I ask, because even with the radiators on I’m wearing a sweatshirt.
She snorts. “Not right now. I’ve got my own heat.” She mimes fanning herself. “Hot flashes.”
Like I needed to know.
“The thing is, I want to make my special chocolate-chip cookies for Andy,” she continues, cheeks flushing.
And that’s when I know I’ve got to get out of Beijing: That nice Mr. Zhou next door has become Andy.
Given my mom’s track record with men, no good can come of this.
“Maybe try Walmart,” I mutter, and turn back to my laptop.
I love my mom.
Seriously, I really do. She did the best she could do with raising me, which maybe wasn’t always very good, but she comes through when it counts, like after I got blown up in the Sandbox, for example, leaving my leg busted in too many places to count and the rest of me not much better.
It’s just that a month now, living in my apartment in Beijing? That wasn’t what I had in mind when she said she wanted to come and visit me.
“Just to see how you’re doing,” she’d said, “since you don’t have time to come home.”
This of course was a lie on my part. I didn’t want to come home. Long story.
After a couple of weeks, where I did my best to show her the tourist sites—the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall, the Silk Market for fake Prada, and the world’s largest IKEA store—she showed no sign of going anywhere, other than to the guest room in my apartment by the Gulou subway station, which used to be my office. I finally asked, “So, Mom, when’s your flight home again?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “It’s really up to you.”
“What about work?”
“Well…” She hesitated. As I recall, she twisted her hands together. “The job didn’t really work out.”
It’s not her fault, I tell myself now. She worked hard for years. It’s not her fault that the U.S. economy is in the toilet, that she’s fifty-one years old and no one wants to hire her for anything. Not her fault that Refinancing Roulette didn’t pay off. The condo was a shithole anyway. Sometimes it’s even sort of cool having her here, like when she makes tacos, cooking being an activity at which I suck.
But I seriously need some away time from her right now.
“Don’t talk to me about Jesus,” I said about three days after she got here, Jesus being one of the things that we used to have in common but that pretty much got blown up, along with the rest of my life, in Iraq. Mostly she’s been pretty good about it, but every once in a while Jesus slips out.
For example: “You know, that nice Mr. Zhou next door belongs to a church. And I think it’s Christian, more or less. They worship Jesus anyway. He invited me to attend their service. Would you like . . . ?”
Like I’m going to go to some weird-ass Chinese underground house church, featuring Brother Jesus Christ of the Righteous Thundering Fist, or what have you.
Like I’d set foot inside Sunrise, for that matter.
Sunrise is the church that my mom and me used to go to in Arizona. It’s a big church, in this fake-adobe complex that always reminded me of an Indian casino. But I still used to believe in it all. Take comfort in Reverend Jim’s air-conditioned sermons. Snap my what would jesus do? rubber bracelet against my wrist when I needed an invisible helping hand.
When people talk about how your faith gets tested, they always say that trials make your faith stronger. What they don’t say is that sometimes faith just dissolves like desert sand between your fingers.