Opium

Opium

  • Hardback
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Product details

  • Hardback | 422 pages
  • 150 x 230mm
  • HarperCollins Publishers
  • HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 0246127422
  • 9780246127426

Review Text

Though a considerable improvement over the absurd conspiracies of Canary (1981), this long, slow tale of 1960s opium-trade wrangles (Mafia, Triads, CIA, etc.) gets badly bogged down in a plot that's part history-polemic, part cartoon-melodrama, part romantic hooey. In 1963 respected Eurasian tycoon Harry Lin is shot dead at his Hong Kong birthday banquet - a murder that's witnessed by Harry's two Americanized, visiting children: lawyer Peter and artist Su. (Their put-upon mother long ago ran off with Asia scholar Terhune, an opium addict, then sank into madness and suicide.) Moreover, the shocked Lin heirs soon learn that "our father was the biggest fucking gangster in Asia" - kingpin of Hong Kong's opium-trade. Su, horrified, refuses her $500 million inheritance and returns to California. But Peter, won over by opium-trade lectures from family "mandarin" Left-Hand Chen, decides to stay and take over the business - which is in the midst of power-struggles involving Corsicans, US Mafiosi, Chinese gangs, Mao, and the CIA. (A recurring Message throughout: secret US support - via the Vietnam War - for the opium/heroin trade.) And the third major figure is hero Jim Cross, an ex-med student who falls madly in love with Su ("mouths locked, shuddering, clinging, straining to tear the universe apart") in San Francisco. Cross, however, by bald coincidence, has a tragic past with links to those Corsican opium-traders - a fact which sends Su's brother into a frenzy. So Su is soon kidnapped to Hong Kong by Peter's henchmen, with Cross in earnest yet slow-paced pursuit. (He stops off in Japan for lessons in Asia/opium culture from old Terhune, then gets hooked on opium himself.) Meanwhile, waiting to be rescued, Su learns assorted secrets about the powers at work behind the opium business, realizing that brother Peter is a pathetic pawn. ("You mean it's the US and Chiang Kai-shek, and the Mafia versus Britain, the Triads, and Peking?") But eventually Cross does rescue Su, after which he quixotically tries to get the US government to help break up an imminent East/West opium deal; and finally there's a deus-ex-machina typhoon, with colorful demises for the bad guys - though the opium evil goes on. . . "as the desperate rationale of anti-Communism drove America on into its night, embedding the drug economy deep in the nation's flesh." Overplotted and heavyhanded, with a hero who's too flatly noble to bring the chaotic proceedings together - but sporadically evocative and informative about the 1960s international-drug trade. (Kirkus Reviews)show more