Title: Hong Kong

Author: Stephen Coonts

Published: 2000

Genre: judging from its lurid orange cover (with two junks on the harbor outlined in black, of course) and the blurbs on the back -- 'High-octane techno-wizardry!' (USA Today) -- let's call it a 'high-tech, weapons-intensive thriller in the Tom Clancy mode'.

Period: 2000

One-sentence synopsis: Trouble is brewing in Hong Kong as the Chinese government seeks to destabilize the SAR after the handover, so supertough smart guy Jake Grafton is dispatched stat to see if the US Consul General is involved.

Cultural focus (i.e. is the book about westerners or Chinese): Neither: the best-developed characters seem to be explosive devices.

Evocation of Hong Kong setting: Let's leave this for just now, shall we?

Inscrutability index: Just hang on, please . . . .

Typhoon count: Undetermined, and you'll now see why.

Review: After the heavy emotional involvment of my last reading venture, Xu Xi's Hong Kong Rose, I decided I needed a change -- so how about a rock 'em, sock 'em, shoot 'em-up-real-good type of story, with lots of action and weapons and stuff? Stephen Coonts's Hong Kong seemed well-suited to fill the bill. In fact, it looked to be such an exciting book I felt that I needed to call it HONG KONG instead. It just seemed more fitting.

Anyway, I got started. Or, rather, I PLUNGED IN.

Well, it turns out that our hero, the craggily-named Jake Grafton, is in Hong Kong on a secret mission authorized by the State Department, or the CIA, or maybe the League of Women Voters, and he witnesses a bank run brought on by the ChiComs destabilizing the Japanese finance minister's underwear supply (I admit to engaging in moderate skimming by page 28), which is described in this sequence (the bank run, not the underwear):

Although he spoke not a word of Chinese, [Jake] didn't really need the language to read the emotions on people's faces. A few people were openly crying, weeping silently as they rocked back and forth in sitting positions. Others were on cellular phones, presumably sharing their misfortune with family and friends.

The number of wireless telephones in use by the crowd surprised Jake -- China was definitely third or fourth world. There was money in Hong Kong, a lot of which had been invested in state-of-the-art technology. Still, most of the people in this square existed on a small fraction of the money that the average American family earned.

As Jake sat there with two thousand American dollars' worth of traveler's checks in his pocket that he could get cashed in any bank in town [except for the failed one he's staring at, the intelligent reader assumes --ed.], the vast gulf between the comfortable, middle-class circumstances in which he had lived his life and the hand-to-mouth existence that so many hundreds of millions -- billions -- of people around the world accepted as their lot in life spread before him like the Grand Canyon.

One morning Benny Alden sat in his room thinking. The four Alden children lived with their grandfather, James Alden.

'What a lot of adventures we have had,' thought Benny. 'First, we lived in a boxcar in the woods. That was fun!'

You may have noted a slight shift in focus in the middle of that quotation. I can blame it only indirectly on Stephen Coonts. It in fact marks the point at which I flung aside HONG KONG in disgust, and picked up Daughter Tall's copy of The Boxcar Children: The Caboose Mystery, which promised a closer correspondence with reality, plus characters who exhibit a measure of savoir faire greatly exceeding those in Mr Coonts's work.

I mean, come on: how, in 2000, can you do so little research (or so willfully distort the truth) as to suggest that people in Hong Kong live in the third world? (Or the 'fourth world' -- I don't even know what that means!)

Also, if your main character is supposed to be a truly righteous badass type, how could you so utterly humiliate him by sending him tramping around Hong Kong with a pocket full of traveler's checks, for goodness sake? Can't you just see Jake trying to cash one -- and failing, in a withering barrage of derisive comments from the counter staff -- as he orders a Happy Meal at one of HK's many third-world McDonald's restaurants? Sheesh.

The upshot here is clear: if you can get past page 28, you've got a lot better pain tolerance than I do. And although I do recommend The Caboose Mystery without reservation, unfortunately it's not set in Hong Kong.

Bonus information: There's not much to say here, other than that HONG KONG comes published in an extremely book-bag-friendly paperback format that seems to weigh mere ounces. I realize, however, that if a book's greatest virtue is its portability, the bar is being set pretty low.

One last note: you didn't think I'd just leave that that 'fourth world' question hanging, did you? Inevitably, Wikipedia's got an entry on it, which informs us that 'The term Fourth World in academia . . . commonly refers to peoples living nomadic, pastoral, hunter-gatherer or other ways of life considered outside the modern industrial norm'. So, obviously, I was wrong: who better fits the profile of a typical nomadic hunter-gatherer raiding party than a claque of Hong Kong tai-tais saddling up their camels to go hit the sales at Lane Crawford?

Getting your hands on a copy: You're on your own. I refuse to aid and abet the reading of this novel in any form, by any means, in any world, whether it be first, second, third, or fourth.

Next up: Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City.


Hong Kong

I *ahem* acquired this book from a hotel library a few years ago (don't worry, I left some in return) and found it to be utter crap of the worst kind. It deteriorates into a cyborg shoot 'em up along the streets of HK and Kowloon.

Funnily enough, another book acquired at the same time, with some Hong Kong settings, was called "Bullion" by John Goldsmith. This latter I actually enjoyed but not sure how easy to obtain. No cyborgs in this one.

Cyborgs, etc.

Hi Phil;

I'm impressed to hear that you made it all the way through to the cyborgs. I read a couple of reviews that indicated I'd be missing out on this feature if I didn't finish the book -- and Lord knows I love a good cyborg sequence as much as the next guy -- but I just couldn't muster up the gumption.

The HKPL do have a copy of the Goldsmith book, but it's on their 'withdrawal' list, so it's essentially dead to them, and hence to us!