Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: Stealing the Dragon, Tim Maleeny

Midnight Ink, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7387-0997. 365 pages.

A ship is approaching San Francisco. In the hold are illegal Chinese immigrants but one is different that the others, a young woman carrying a mysterious object. At the precise time she scales the side of the hold in a way that doesn't seem humanly possible and escapes. Soon after the ship runs aground on Alcatraz Island and the authorities find the Chinese in the hold and five dead crewman. The people will only describe the person who did it as a demon or heavenly soldier.

One of the detectives looks at the crime scene and thinks of the one person who could have pulled it off, Sally, the Japanese-American martial arts expert and unofficial partner of private detective Cape Weathers. Sally, an orphan, began to train as an assassin at age four in a Hong Kong school run by one of the triads. She broke away and was allowed to move to the U.S.

Cape doesn't believe that Sally was involved but neither can he find her. His investigation takes him deep into San Francisco's Chinatown where he is very much the outsider and hindered by suspicion and language. He has to negotiate his way among Chinese gangsters and an ambitious politician. Along the way we also learn a bit about the serious subject of human trafficking.

Capsule Opinion: Very enjoyable action thriller with interesting plot and characters and some nicely dark humor which I'm always up for. I'll be reading more in this series as well as his Sam McDougal story, Jump.

I don't often get to an indie bookstore so when I do I generally look at every title on the shelf. Such was the case when I got to Creatures 'n Crooks in Richmond, VA a couple of weeks back. I noticed this book by Tim Maleeny for two reasons. I remembered Tim from his excellent short story Prisoner of Love which was podcast on Also, there is that striking cover featuring a woman with a dragon tattoo and Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a favorite of mine.

Stealing the Dragon is the first novel with former investigative reporter turned private detective, Cape Weathers. Cape is of the wise-cracking variety of PI but not a light weight. His relationship with Sally, a lesbian, is touched upon but not fully explored. The next book in the series, Beating the Babushka, takes place before Stealing the Dragon and looks like it will fill in some of that information.

The present day chapters alternate with the story of Sally's training as an assassin in Hong Kong. This would make an interesting book by itself. As a plot device, it neatly ties into the story.

With a school for assassins, amazing martial arts, and and a crime lord who seems to take after Bond villain or more likely Dr. Fu Manchu, Stealing the Dragon falls a bit outside the realistic detective type of story.

Recommended if you want a fun, well paced, darkly humorous, action thriller.