Ellie is an Iraq vet with a blown-up leg who lives in Beijing and is the sole agent for a Chinese artist who’s in hiding. His work has earned the attention of the Chinese government, and not the good kind. Their security forces are pretty sure Ellie knows where to find him, even though she does not. Ellie’s military buddy/lover, Dog, wants her to look for his brother, who’s gone missing somewhere in China and, by the way. Some crazy billionaire wants to buy some of Ellie’s client’s art, even though they can’t sell until the attention from the government goes away, but this is not a man who is accustomed to being told no. To top it all off, Ellie’s mom’s visit has been extended indefinitely and she’s fallen for a man, again, this time Ellie’s neighbor, who’s into a new religion that involves naval denting.
Ellie feels guilty about her affair with Dog, wants to escape her mother and the Chinese government’s security forces, and so decides to go in search of Dog’s brother as a diversion. Both her mother and her neighbor tag along on what she billed as a holiday. Between this annoyance and the pain in her blown-up leg, Ellie’s not sure there’s enough alcohol and Percocet to make things bearable.
Her search for Dog’s brother, Jason, leads her down a rabbit hole of GMOs, big money, ecoterrorism, and global politics, as well as thugs from many different sides, and across some of the most beautiful and most horrifying sites of contemporary China.
What struck me most about this novel is the modern feel of the characters. They’re complex, neither fully good nor fully bad, but this complexity is rooted in the paradoxes of modern life. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Affairs between soldiers who have spouses at home who love them, but can’t understand their experiences. Communist China immersed in capitalist ventures and ambivalent about the pace of change. Seeds that will grow in the wasteland created by our addiction to electronics, but that enslave farmers and endanger future generations with untold risks. A mystery that makes you think.