Hour of the Ratby Lisa Brackmann
Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance of over a year ago has her in the sights of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving. But when her mom
Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance of over a year ago has her in the sights of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving. But when her mom takes up with “that nice Mr. Zhou next door,” Ellie decides that it’s time to get out of town—given her mother’s past bad choices of men, no good can come of this.
An old Army buddy, Dog Turner, gives her the perfect excuse. His unstable brother Jason has disappeared in picturesque Yangshuo, a famous tourist destination, and though Ellie knows it’s a long shot, she agrees to try to find him. At worst, she figures she’ll have a few days of fun in some gorgeous scenery.
But her plans for a relaxing vacation are immediately complicated when her mother and the new boyfriend tag along. And as soon as she starts asking questions about the missing Jason, Ellie realizes that she’s stumbled into a dangerous conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire and lots of cats—one that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful—and most surreal—places.
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.”
From the Hardcover edition.
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.
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.
Meet the Author
Lisa Brackmann has worked as a motion picture executive and an issues researcher in a presidential campaign. A southern California native, she currently lives in Venice, California, with her three cats. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, was an Amazon Best Book of 2010.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
Ellie McEnroe is one of the best heroines out there today--she breaks all sorts of molds and brings a rich, unique past (military vet, world traveler, non-Mama's girl) into the fully realized world of contemporary China that Lisa Brackmann has created for her. Brackmann herself is a jane-of-many-trades, from screenwriter to honorary denizen of China. You can really feel Brackmann's love for the country and familiarity with everything--where are the best dumplings, train travel, etc. HOUR OF THE RAT is Ellie's second jaunt through the Chinese countryside and underbelly, and it blew me away, just like ROCK PAPER TIGER before it, but I would recommend it even for those just getting into the series. From start to finish, this is a hilarious, suspenseful thriller with plenty of heart.
If you are looking for a genre-conforming, action packed thriller with all the details tied up in an easy, pretty bow for you at the end, this is not the book you’re looking for. If you, however, prefer a book with deep characterizations, exquisite descriptions, a terrifying real-world conspiracy, and action that occurs in sudden bursts of sheer terror, set in a county that is both surreally beautiful and maddeningly baffling, then this book should be at the top of your reading list. The description lays out the plot pretty well. In Hour of the Rat, Ms. Brackmann returns to China with her protagonist Ellie McEnroe, the lead from Rock, Paper, Tiger. Ellie is both physically and mentally scarred from her tour as a military medic in Iraq. Living as an ex-pat in China, she’s still trying to heal, to find her place, to work out the complicated relationships in her life. She’s working as a manager for a dissident artist, Zhang Jianli, introduced in Rock, Paper, Tiger, who has now gone deeply underground. Her estranged mother is now living with her, trying to heal the rifts in their lives. Then one of her Iraq war buddies, suffering from brain trauma incurred in the war, calls upon her for help finding his brother, lost somewhere in the sprawling, glorious, treacherous bowels of China. Ellie doesn’t have a lot of friends, certainly not the kind she can confide in or who’ll rush unquestioningly to her side to help. Mostly she has people who are sort of OK, or who offer something that masquerades as friendship with all sorts of strings and traps included. So when one of them says “she owes him”, she feels an obligation to try to help. And almost immediately finds herself tumbling down a rabbit hole, pursued by organizations that are at odds not only with her, but each other. When they’re not trying to use her for their own ends, they’re trying to kill her. Ellie is a complicated character. I like that about her. A lot. She’s flawed, a bit reckless, sometimes pig-headed in her pursuit of trying to help vague friends who wouldn’t dream of throwing her a rope if she was drowning. But she’s always true to her own core—the core that won’t allow her to quit, even if it would be in her own best interest, and a determination to see things through to the end, to prove to herself that she’s really doing the best that she can, even with her broken body and post traumatic stress disorder. She’s a broken, damaged, and deeply, deeply human character. She drinks too much beer and too much coffee. She’s in pain a lot from her war injuries and sometimes pops Percocet like candy. She swears and does stupid things sometimes and makes bad decisions. Just like real humans do. She’s dealing with life the best she can. And she’s trying to reach out, to help others. This is just one of Ms. Brackmann’s strengths in writing. She creates characters so three dimensional you almost feel as if you know them in real life—as if you could email them and say “Hey, Ellie, want to go for a beer?” Even her secondary characters are so finely illustrated it is as if they are based on real people the author met in her many journeys in China. And of course, China itself is a character, like a darkly compelling and utterly untrustworthy lover. Beautiful, lush, intoxicating, possessive, and dangerous as hell. And if you are a discerning reader, you will follow up on your own on the main plot thread of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and their real-world impact on the world’s food supply, and may be left as twitchy and unsettled about it as Ellie McEnroe is. This is a novel that couches authenticity in fiction, and captures the truth about us and the human condition—that we are all just trying to do our crummy best in a sometimes scary world. And that sometimes, if we are open to it, something good and lasting can come of it. Like this novel. I was exceedingly fortunate to receive a free Advance Reading Copy of this book.
I stopped reading at page 15. Too much cursing. Vain attempts at humor. I want my money back.
Very well written, makes me want to read more from this author. Also makes me want to investigate further issues regarding Genetically Modified seeds and foods. Eye opening. Very good insights into the culture of China.
This book is unusual. Sometimes hard to get going, but is interesting.
A decent read. Entertaining, summer pastime....
This book should be an eye opener to people who don't believe in all the damage we are doing to our land with our obsolete electronics. It. Is scary what the future generations may have to face. Fiction or not, this could really be happening. The book is rather long and drawn out. I would recommend this book for discussion.
Having recently visited China, I found this particularly interesting and fun! Can't wait to read more!
great book, keeps you hooked throughout the entire story, easy read. i also bought the two other book written by this author: Rock, Paper, Tiger & Getaway
Too much confusing dialog. Not well written. Ending kind of leaves you hanging.
I enjoyed the book and keep thinking about the implications of GMO's, something I hadn't thought much about until reading this. I liked the character and may go back to read her first book with Ellie. Her descriptions of various areas of China very good as well.
The Hour of the Rat was enchanting, informative, mysterious and full of wonderful characters. This is the first of Lisa Brachmann's novels that I've read, but it won't be the last. I couldn't put it down.
This book is really good love it
Anne marie issa
Even if there are spoiler alerts and horrible plot lines, if you truly enjoy the author's writings then you should just read their books without question! When i'm reading books by my favorite author, i always reread! There will almost always be a quality to enjoy, if you enjoy that author!
This sound good