Despite the bang with which it starts, this is no action thriller rocketing along; instead it's a tortuous journey of discovery by its Korean-American protagonist and narrator, Allen Choice. Separated from his family by death and alienation, Choice is a loner and somewhat of a cipher--a 30-ish bachelor, a college dropout, a bodyguard for a private protection service. Everything changes when his partner, Paul Baumgartner, is shot dead while they're on a routine job babysitting a Silicon Valley executive. Choice's introspective, ruminative nature--his ""dis-ease"" as he describes it--is shaken by this murder and by the Kafkaesque events that follow. Nudged by an aggressive reporter, Linda Maldonado, Choice begins to consider various possibilities--that Paul, not their client, was the target--or even that he himself was the intended victim. Choice finds his investigation anticipated or derailed at every turn, sometimes violently, sometimes more subtly, but inevitably forcing him to learn more about his heritage and his past, including the death of his father when he was only 10. Chang's intricately constructed plot moves easily from the minutiae of protecting a client to the cultural rootlessness affecting his hero. Choice's dual journey--of self-discovery and the uncovering of his partner's killer--makes for an absorbing blend of literary novel and crime thriller. (Feb.) Forecast: Chang's first two novels drew critical acclaim upon their publication by Black Heron; the second, Dispatches from the Cold, has been optioned for film. With the greater marketing muscle of HarperCollins behind him--including a four-city author tour--Chang could break out with this title, especially if the option translates into a feature film.