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Rock Paper Tiger (An Ellie McEnroe Novel) Hardcover – June 1, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Ellie Cooper, the heroine of Brackmann's electrifying debut, is an Iraq War vet trying to forget her past while bumming around the fringes of the Beijing art world. Having been ditched by her husband, Trey, a former army interrogator now working in China as a private security consultant, Ellie has drifted into a relationship with the artist Lao Zhang, as well as into a fog of Percocet and ennui in order to escape her memories of Iraq. After Zhang disappears with a mysterious Uighur, Ellie becomes a person of interest to U.S. and Chinese authorities, and soon Ellie's evading goons and cops, getting information from Zhang's friends via a massive multiplayer online game, and flashing back to her experiences as a combat medic at an Abu Ghraib–like detention center. The China scenes are fast paced and strikingly atmospheric, and Ellie's backstory—her and Trey's return from combat is tough, sad, and endearing—is given in doses that perfectly complement the central action. Given the high-octane leadup, the ending is a bit of a letdown, but the book's exotic setting and tough heroine will definitely appeal to fans of John Burdett and Stieg Larsson. (June)
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Brackmann’s debut deftly mixes modern China, the Iraq War, and online gaming, an unusual combination that manages to work. Iraq vet Ellie Cooper is making a new life for herself in Beijing, living with friends in an unsanctioned artists’ village on the outskirts of town. A chance encounter with an Uighur (Turkish ethnics living in China) sets in motion a baffling series of events in which Ellie is pursued by American and Chinese agents. Not sure whom to trust or where to turn, Ellie finds that she is able to communicate safely using a relatively unmonitored online role-playing game. Ellie’s story of her time in Iraq and the reasons she initially came to China are revealed in chapter-long flashbacks interspersed with the main story; taken together, the two narrated strands constitute a fast-paced and engaging story as both plots are full of mystery and suspense. Although the ending falls a bit flat, the tension up to that point is sustained superbly, and the characters are full-bodied and engaging. Good reading for anyone interested in the international crime novel. --Jessica Moyer
Top customer reviews
Brackmann's triumph isn't justEllie, but the way Brackmann realizes life in modern China––the scent of the autumn air in Bejing, the texture of the stained white coverlet on a train's "soft sleeper," and feeling of always being alone and watched, eavesdropped on or lied to. Those doing the watching, the following, the listening and the hacking are at the heart of the novel––knowing who is on which side and what the sides are is difficult and dangerous. And then there is the alternative world of a video game that Ellie must navigate as well. Brackmann braids Ellie's past, present and this virtual world into a troubling, exciting and beautiful contemplation of guilt and pain, community and complicity, art and solitude, and loss and love. Read the book.
Her connection with Lao Zhang and his artistic community makes her a suspicious character to the authorities. All through this novel, Ellie is being pursued (and occasionally detained) by "men in suits," both Chinese and foreign. She's always running off somewhere-anywhere in a panic, and thanks to her condition of homelessness and perpetual flight, the reader gets an interesting tour of far-flung cities and villages throughout China.
Ellie also has a rich virtual life, visiting Internet cafes everywhere she goes to check email and communicate with her boyfriend who has disappeared from the visible world. It's fun to watch Ellie navigate these smoke-choked cafes among young Chinese men wearing headsets and cursing under attack by online monsters.
Ellie is a fascinating character in general, with her physical and emotional scars from Iraq and her determination to protect Lou Zhang and his art. The story of her days back "in the sandbox" and her romance with Trey alternates with her real-time and online adventures in China.
Rock Paper Tiger has heavy political overtones, as well as being a riveting story. I enjoyed the book and found its sequel, The Year of the Rat, even better. Ellie's slap-dash and profane style of narration is a treat.
I had read most of the Amazon reviews before buying the book, so I was prepared for an unsettled, unresolved ending. However, I think the difficulty that many reviewers are encountering is that this isn't really a mystery or a thriller. The brief description on the Amazon page and in these reviews is misleading. This book is about Ellie. It's about her character, and through her, about human nature. If you approach the book with that lens, it becomes a very different book than if you approach it as a thriller/mystery. Furthermore, from that perspective, the ending really is the only possible ending.
I gave the book 4 stars instead of 5 because it goes on a bit long. It could use a good cinching-up in the middle, and a bit of pruning to keep the focus more on Ellie's character and less on the mystery. A couple of Ellie's wanderings and at least one subplot could be removed with no real loss to the book's power or charm. However, it's a very good read.
I read the book on my Kindle Keyboard. The Kindle version of the book did not have any typos or formatting errors (at least, none that I saw), and the chapter marks and table of contents worked perfectly.