Tag Archives: Marriott Courtyard

Shootout in Chinatown

Red Jade: A Detective Jack Wu Investigation by Henry Chang (Soho Crime, $14.00, 248 pages)

“Killing two bad guys, taking a cold-blooded murderer home.   Not bad for a few days in Seattle, huh?”

Reading Red Jade by Henry Chang is like being on a diet of tasteless fiber before enjoying a fine helping of spicy Mongolian Beef.   The vivid cinematic ending is literally preceded by a couple of hundred pages written in a dull and plodding style.   In fact, make that plodding, plodding, plodding.

The reader will need to take a suspension-of-reality pill before accepting the story that’s told here.   New York Police Detective Jack Yu is an Asian quasi super-hero who can solve multiple crimes while spending a weekend in Seattle, Washington.   It’s so hard to believe that Yu can solve a murder that took place in New York City’s Chinatown while in Seattle that the author asks of his male protagonist, “How much destiny could he take?”   Indeed…  Wherever Detective Yu goes, the evil people he needs to find just happen to be right down the block.

It may or may not be worth mentioning that the book starts with the bloody murder of a young man and a young woman in the Big Apple’s Chinatown.   This precedes Jack’s traveling to Seattle with his sometime girlfriend (she’s there attending a legal conference), where he not only solves the case in chief, but another quite big one while he’s at it.   Yes, the world is just a convenient stage for Detective Yu.

One might be tempted to think that there’s going to be some interesting scenery covered in a tale set in Seattle.   Instead, except for a few walks on very mean streets, the majority of the tale involves Jack’s stay at the Marriott Courtyard near Sea-Tac, while his girlfriend beds at the far more impressive Westin downtown.   Jack has an entire extended weekend to work his magic, which sometimes involves beating up two foes at once using his very impressive kung-fu style skills.   Sometimes, though, Jack falls back on simply shooting the bad guys when he’s not getting the best of things.   Yippee Ki-yay!, as Bruce Willis might say.

Still, credit has to be given to Chang for fashioning a surprisingly energetic and involving ending.   It’s a shame it takes one such effort to get to it.   This reader felt worn down by the telling, as if the reading took away more energy from me than it could ever hope to repay.   Chang writes in small bits and bites (some chapters covering only a single page), which makes me think his skills might be better applied to very short crime stories.   Let’s just hope that he comes up with leads that are more reality-based than Detective Jack Yu.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Jade was released in trade paper form on November 8, 2011.   “Chang fails to make Chinatown engaging…  What started out as a promising series has devolved into something quite run-of-the-mill…”   Publishers Weekly

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A Turbulent Flight

There are certain books that begin with a great premise and a great main character but which are simply unable to deliver on the promise of a well-told story.   This is one of those books.   This 303-page tale of a modern airline traveler loses its interest, its energy and its wings at about the 200-page mark.   From then on, the engines are stalled and the story glides awkwardly to a crash landing on a foam-filled runway.

Up in the Air is the story of Ryan Bingham, a so-called Career Transition Counselor, who is hired to help downsizing companies get rid of employees without having them go postal.   Bingham must be part psychologist, part upward mobility trainer and – to a large part – a fraudulent New Age guru who’s supposed to convince the terminated workers that its all for the best.   Of course, Bingham (who views himself as a type of glorified and special purpose accountant) never has to stick around to view the actual damage – the failed marriages, lost homes and suicides.   He convinces himself that he does more good than harm as he flies every day or two on Great West Airlines circa 2001.

As we meet the not-very-likeable and self-absorbed Bingham, he’s submitted his resignation because he is about to accomplish the main goal of his life.   His primary objective is to be the tenth person in the domestic carrier’s history who has flown 1,000,000 miles without leaving the U.S.   Bingham travels so much that he has no home or apartment, he lives in the thin atmosphere land he calls “Airworld.”

There’s a lot of inside baseball talk that frequent flyers and frequent lodging chain sleepers will find entertaining…   For example, there’s much debate about the merits of Hilton-owned Hampton Inns versus Marriott Courtyards.   Which one is the best base for corporate warriors, and why is it that a traveler feels almost invisible at the larger Marriott and Hilton properties?   (And why is it that frequent travelers come to need Sound Soothers to sleep?)   Bingham also has this marvelous machine called the Hand Star, the apparent precursor of today’s BlackBerry smartphone.

The first problem with Air is the realization that Bingham is the only character that is remotely believable or plausible, and even this is a stretch.   The next problem is that the once-serious story turns into a hybrid science fiction-dark satire two-thirds of the way through its telling.   A lot of paranoia emerges among Bingham and those he encounters, which may mean that he’s gone insane…   Worse, it may signal that this tale was a put-on from page one.

I prefer to think that author Walter Kirn came up with a great start but had no finish.   (Nevertheless, he’s received a very large check from George Clooney’s people who are turning this into the star’s next film.)   Not recommended; simply not worth the time or effort required to get through it.   There’s just no payoff on arrival for frequent readers.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Up in the Air by Walter Kirn, soon to be a major motion picture starring George Clooney.

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