Just released this month is the latest mystery/action novel The China Gambit from Attorney Allan Topol. In a moment of mental weakness, I got persuaded by the press release to consent to read a copy and write a review. The copy that arrived was paperback and 442 pages long, so I knew it would require more than one potful of tea to get through the whole thing.
Before talking about this book, let me digress into the arts and society in general. Nothing too esoteric here. Having studied art history as well as having had a Literature Major in college, I’ve noticed that a trend that starts in one of the arts or one aspect of a culture gets picked up by the others. For example, the Rococo Era encompassed not just painting, but music, furniture, fashions, architecture, and yes literature. Similarly, the Minimalist Era spread across all those areas, as did Impressionism, Romanticism, and so on. This novel seems to have been influenced by the trend in music and movies for quick cuts and short, jerky actions. As annoying as I find that in movies, it is almost intolerable in a novel.
Okay, got that off my chest. So, what about The China Gambit otherwise? Definitely well-researched. Definitely written by an attorney. Definitely action-packed. Definitely a quick read. So much for the good points.
I have to bemoan the lack of good writing out there in literature these days. No, I don’t mean word usage, grammar, and punctuation. I mean a richness to the language, the imagery, the view into the hearts and souls of the characters. Instead we get a bunch of vapid, shallow, zipping around novels that are all about the action and not about the characters. This may be a bit biased on my part as a true fan of Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, James Joyce, Daphne du Maurier, etc. Even so, I have to state that The China Gambit will leave you feeling like you do about an hour after dining on Chinese food: wanting something more substantial. But first, if you’re like me, you will start out feeling pissed off at the death of Francesca Page in the Prologue. It was a necessary plot element and is the catalyst for the action that follows, but it’s still infuriating for this young, smart woman to die as she did. Also, to compare this novel to Scott Turow, Robert Ludlum, and others of that genre is not a very nice thing to say about those authors. When not writing choppy novels, Topol uses his time and efforts representing companies being harangued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the mainstay, it seems, of his legal career.
All I can say in summary is read at your own risk. But then, that’s always the case.
Time to steep some more tea!
© 2012 A.C. Cargill photos and text