Hour of the Rat
Review: Ellie "YiLi" McEnroe is called before the Chinese authorities to discuss her representation of Lao Zhang, a local artist who has conveniently vanished, after which she decides that a trip out of Beijing just might be what's needed to put a little distance between them and her. She can't leave the country, but a visit within the country is permissible … and best of all, she has a reason to go somewhere: a friend in the US has asked her to check on her brother, Jason, who hasn't been heard from in over a month, and was last seen in the area of Yangshuo in southeastern China, in Hour of the Rat, the second mystery in this series by Lisa Brackmann.
Ellie quickly manages to locate a couple of people, who seem to have known Jason, but profess to have no knowledge of his current whereabouts. A random comment here, a potential link there, and Ellie is soon hopping planes, trains, buses and taxies to various towns and regions in search of Jason. And with each step she takes, she learns something new … like Jason being wanted as an ecoterrorist. She discovers he had agreed to help some local environmentalists raise awareness to the increasingly widespread use of genetically modified seeds, a potentially dangerous situation that the government may be turning a blind eye to as the crops seem to grow and thrive despite being in an otherwise hostile environment. But at what future cost to the farmers that are using them to feed their families? Meanwhile, Ellie is being pressured to sell some of Lao Zhang's works to a wealthy industrialist, despite being explicitly told she cannot do so. The buyer, an owner of a chemical products company, is politically well-connected, something Ellie thinks she might be able to leverage in some way.
Hour of the Rat is an entertaining mystery, if also a somewhat uneven one. As a character, Ellie makes for an enjoyable companion throughout much of her adventure. She gets a little tiresome now and again, as all friends do, with some of her narration coming off as whining more than anything else. The setting is wonderfully realized, with Ellie visiting some truly unusual places that are described in both factual and impressionable (from Ellie's perspective) terms. The mystery storyline is fairly routine, the author seemingly unwilling to take any chances in pushing past its well-defined boundaries. And while the mystery is probably the reason most readers will start Hour of the Rat, they'll finish it because of the appeal of Ellie the character and China the setting.
Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided an ARC of Hour of the Rat for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Soho Press (Hardcover), May 2012
ISBN-13: 9781616952402; ISBN-10: 1616952407
Location(s) referenced in Hour of the Rat: China
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Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann — An Ellie McEnroe Mystery
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Date: June 2013
List Price: $25.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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