Friday, April 11, 2014

The Risk Agent by Ridley Pearson

Several years ago at the Iowa City Book Festival, I heard Ridley Pearson speak in the Old Capital. Like many a writer, he started off in another calling, but he couldn’t resist attempting a book. He eventually received recognition (sales), and he's made a career of it. He related that, among other things, he participated in a rock bank (“The Rock Bottom Remainders”) with Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Dave Barry (along with others). But mostly Pearson talked about writing and his book, The Risk Agent. The Risk Agent arose out of a teaching stint in creative writing he did at a college in Shanghai. He reported that you could learn a lot about life in China from the essays of 20 year-olds. 

The Risk Agent centers of two characters, one is a brash, use-your-fists American with a wary eye and a soft heart. He’s brought to China to try to resolve a kidnapping, and his employers match him with a young, American-educated Chinese woman who’s trained as a forensic accountant. The plot gets thick with the Chinese police (local and state security), an American corporation doing business—perhaps some shady business—in China, a rival Chinese corporation, and lots of thugs. The setting is in and around Shanghai. Pearson weaves in many local landmarks and brings in as much local and Chinese culture as he can. For instance, we learn that there’s a Shanghainese language besides the standard Mandarin. (Our American hero, of course, speaks both.)

Pearson’s book is a romp. The plotting is extensive and takes the two protagonists to the tops of Shanghai’s mushrooming glass-box high-rises, into back alleys, and then concludes with a brief trip into the countryside. There’s lots of movement and action here. The characters are tolerably rounded, and we can easily tell the good guys (and gals) from the bad guys. Thus, if you’d like a view contemporary Shanghai and environs with a prototypical American and classy Chinese woman who can throw a punch and remain inscrutable, you can enjoy this book. I listened to it via Audible. I thought it went on too long. The dénouement could have come sooner for me. But if you’re looking for a romp through contemporary China, join the ride.

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