Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Hour of the Rat"

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. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.

Brackmann applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Hour of the Rat, and reported the following:
Hour of the Rat is a sequel to my first published novel, Rock Paper Tiger. It features the return of Ellie McEnroe, an accidental Iraq War vet with a bum leg and a worse attitude, who lives in Beijing and represents a dissident Chinese contemporary artist. Hour of the Rat finds Ellie agreeing to help out an Army buddy by looking for his unstable brother, who’s gone missing in China. Of course, since this is a suspense novel, Ellie’s attempt to do a simple favor for a friend quickly becomes very complicated, and very dangerous. On pg. 69, Ellie tries to play detective by questioning the European owner of a cafĂ©/adventure business in Yangshuo, the last place the missing brother was seen. She shows Erick a photo of Jason, the brother in question. Erick claims he doesn’t recognize Jason, but Ellie knows there’s something suspicious going on:
“We have a lot of foreigners who come through here.”

“Yeah, so I heard.”

“So why are you looking for this one?” he asks, in a deliberately casual way.

“I’m friends with his family. His brother, Dog . . . uh, Doug. They don’t know where he is, and they’re worried about him.”

“I see.” He pretends to study the photograph a moment longer. Then pushes it toward me with his long, knotted fingers. Wrapped with scars, from all those ropes they use for rock climbing, maybe.

“Sorry. Don’t think I recognize him.”

He’s lying, I’m sure of it.

“Look,” I say, frustrated, “all we want is to know is that Jason’s okay.”

“Jason?” For an instant the guy’s brow furrows. Then he composes himself. “Wish I could help.”

You fucking liar, I think.

“So what’s your name?” I ask.

“Erik,” he says. “And yours?”

“Ellie. This your place?”

“I’m one of the owners,” he says easily. “Will you be in Yangshuo for a while?”

“I’m not sure. Depends on what I find to do around here.”

“Well, if you’re interested in rock climbing, or white-water rafting, or hiking, just let me know.” He smiles. “I’d be happy to set you up.”
I’d say pg. 69 is both characteristic of Hour of the Rat, and not. It’s characteristic in that Ellie is trying to solve a mystery, something that she doesn’t think she’s very good at doing but that she feels compelled to attempt. For Ellie, it’s really all about wanting to find some purpose and answers to the riddle of her own life, where most of her relationships are fraught with ambiguity and and where many of her problems seem beyond her capacity to solve—but what else can she do except try her best?

Where it’s not characteristic is that Hour of the Rat, like Rock Paper Tiger, is a book in which the China setting plays a huge role. You don’t really get much of a sense of where we are in China and what that’s like in this particular scene, and I think that those aspects are a lot of why you might want to read this book—to get a slightly off-kilter, somewhat insider view of China, a country that has exploded onto the world stage but that is still much misunderstood, where old stereotypes and new fears tend to obscure that China is a place like any other…except different.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Brackmann's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue