Stealing The Dragon by Tim Maleeny--A Review
by Tim Maleeny
Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide
Trade paperback. $14.95
STEALING THE DRAGON begins with an exciting flashback, P.I. Cape Weathers in a fight to the death and his miraculous and bloody rescue by his friend, Sally.
The book then jumps to the hold of a cargo ship, where Chinese refugees are smuggled on board. One of the refugees, aware that the crew of the ship is mistreating them and may kill them, takes matters into her own hands. In the next scene we witness the crewless cargo ship going aground on Alcatraz, the majority of the crew murdered and the refugees unwilling to say what has happened.
Cape Weathers is visited by his cop friend, Beau, who suggests that the case is being turned over to the Feds and sooner or later they're going to pay a visit to Cape's friend Sally, who at some level would be a prime suspect in this killing. Beau hints that it would be a lot better if Cape found her.
Easier said than done. STEALING THE DRAGON then begins to follow two timelines and storylines. One is Cape's hunt for Sally, who runs a martial arts studio in San Francisco's Chinatown, and when that fails, his investigation into the cargo ship massacre by way of various political and/or criminal leaders in the Chinese community.
The second timeline, and to me, the most interesting, is made up of flashbacks to Sally's childhood. The daughter of an American serviceman and a Japanese woman, she was orphaned at the age of five and "sold" to a Triad school in Hong Kong. The Triads are fairly complex Chinese organized crime families that go back hundreds of years. Raised within a version of a Shao Lin monastary, Sally chooses a particular path that makes her an assassin, although one eventually at odds with the family running the Triad. The dragon in question (at least the literal version, not the metaphorical version) in the title is a legendary statue of a dragon that belongs to the Triad and which is believed to provide luck and victory in all battles to whoever possesses. And it's been stolen. Was Sally the thief? One thing is certain--members of the Triad will kill anyone who stands in their way to get it back.
STEALING THE DRAGON is a terrific debut novel on at least two levels--as a PI novel and as an exotic martial arts novel. I don't think you would have to be a martial arts afficionado (like I am) to enjoy this novel. Sally's story is compelling on a lot of other levels and she's a very complex, fascinating character; perhaps more complex and fascinating than Cape Weathers and I suspect Tim Maleeny will have problems balancing the two in future novels. It's a fine tradition, though: Spenser and Hawk; Myron Bolitar and Win; Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. And now, Cape Weathers and Sally. Yeah, it's that good.