Iraq War veteran Ellie appears a second time as author Lisa Brackmann's main character in her new book Hour of the Rat, due out June 2013. (The first book was Rock Paper Tiger.) Dealing with a whole host of issues, from a leg injured in the war, to a former lousy husband, to a slightly annoying mother, Ellie lives in China trying to establish a career as a dealer for contemporary Chinese artists. One of her clients is under suspicion by Chinese authorities. Called in for questioning, Ellie is warned off selling any more of her client's works. She has also been asked by an old army buddy in the States to track down his difficult brother who is somewhere in China. (Yea, right. China is just a little place.) Ellie promises to try. To evade Chinese authority pressure, she takes a vacation, using the vacation as an excuse to look for her friend's brother. However she is not exactly a free agent to do this. Self-guilt makes her ask her mom to go along. In turn, her mom asks a male Chinese neighbor to go along, too. Not exactly a great tour group. They go along but don't play any part in the action. They act as sort of vague comic relief.
Using the barest of clues of where to look for the brother, Ellie, with mom and neighbor in tow, sets off across China and proceeds to get herself into one tight spot after another. She faces international corporate greed, bioengineering, ecological issues, danger and bodily harm. Mom and neighbor are left on their own, to their own devices, while Ellie travels to remote areas of great beauty as well as ecological decrepitude.
There are moments of wry humor as well as a few intense twists. Along with the nitty gritty, there is a softer element involving a little dog. The reader needs to suspend common sense along with Ellie, as she does some really stupid things. In the end, one is left a little unsure exactly who the bad guys really are, or more likely, who the badest of the bad really are. There are lots of candidates. The conclusion is a little weak and definitely leaves one feeling that Brackmann is going to continue with her character in yet another book.
This one includes elements of travel, food, danger, technology, animals and sex; perhaps a few too many elements. There is the usual 20-21st century collection and repetition of "four-letter" words. Ellie's frequent use of them makes her a little one-dimensional. Brackmann's improper use of prepositions and pronouns also makes me wonder if that is supposed to reflect Ellie's contemporary nature or the bad grammar of the author. Overall, the book was a superficial, but entertaining, fast read in spite of its flaws. If you like a tough, contemporary chick-novel, give this a try.