cover image The Flower Net

The Flower Net

Lisa See. HarperCollins Publishers, $24 (323pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017527-6

Moving smoothly from On Gold Mountain, the praised memoir of her Chinese-American family, See applies her knowledge of Chinese customs and traditions to a complex and exciting novel. See adds a solid understanding of subtle and complex Sino-American political and social differences, typifies these qualities in a range of well-crafted characters and tops it all with a suspenseful plot. She cleverly confounds readers' expectations by making her female protagonist, Chinese ministry of public security investigator Liu Hulan, far more tough and pragmatic than her American counterpart, assistant U.S. attorney David Stark. The two, who were lovers a decade ago when they were in the same L.A. law office, meet again when they are paired to investigate two suspicious deaths. The body of the son of the American ambassador to China is found in a lake outside the Forbidden City; then the bloated corpse of the son of one of the most wealthy and powerful men in China, entrepreneur Kwong Ming-yun, turns up in a freighter loaded with illegal Chinese immigrants in waters off L.A. When David and Hulan begin their investigation in Beijing, they gradually uncover a complex trail of greed and revenge that may involve the Chinese triads; the most powerful crime syndicate in Southern California, called the Rising Phoenix; government figures in both countries; high-level members of China's Hundred Families; the multimillion-dollar smuggling of animal organs; and other sinister elements. See integrates historical details, local color and such observations as the fact that shrugging is unknown to the Chinese (they jut out their chins instead). The body count escalates, rendered with realistic gore. Some clunky details intrude when Hulan and David somewhat implausibly take the law into their own hands. But the fascinating picture of China's political heritage and complex social culture makes this debut thriller a standout. $275,000 ad/promo; 200,000 first printing; rights: Sandra Dijkstra; author tour. (Oct.)