cover image China White

China White

Peter Maas. Simon & Schuster, $22.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-671-69417-3

Known primarily for his nonfiction, Maas (Serpico) delivers in his third novel (after Father and Son) a fact-based and fast-moving thriller about Chinese drug smuggling. Hong Kong businessman Y.K. Deng approaches the New York law firm of Needham & Lewis to help him relocate to the U.S. in anticipation of China's takeover of Hong Kong in 1997. Assigned to Deng's case is young former prosecutor Tom MacLean, who, along with his current romantic interest, FBI agent Shannon O'Shea, slowly learns that Deng is actually the head of a powerful and criminal Hong Kong triad and intends to flood America with a particularly potent type of heroin called China white, using the Mafia to distribute it. Maas writes briskly, filling his story with sharply drawn characters, neat and believable twists (though the climax just skirts hokiness) and a wealth of factual information that's never obtrusive. Darkening the narrative is the author's bleak view of the almost uninterrupted flow of drugs into the U.S. That Deng's plan is undone by a careless mistake might seem like bad writing, but, in Maas's hands, it's a veiled comment on just how difficult it is for government agencies to discover and stop drug runners-making this an effective cautionary tale as well as a swift and engaging read. Movie rights to Disney; author tour. (Oct.)