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Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang's mysterious disappearance has attracted the attention of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving.   But things really get complicated when Ellie's Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang's mysterious disappearance has attracted the attention of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving.   But things really get complicated when Ellie's agrees to help out an old Army buddy with his search for his missing brother. Ellie finds herself entangled in a conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire, and lots of cats—a conspiracy that will take her on a wild chase through some of China's most beautiful and most surreal places.


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Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang's mysterious disappearance has attracted the attention of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving.   But things really get complicated when Ellie's Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang's mysterious disappearance has attracted the attention of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving.   But things really get complicated when Ellie's agrees to help out an old Army buddy with his search for his missing brother. Ellie finds herself entangled in a conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire, and lots of cats—a conspiracy that will take her on a wild chase through some of China's most beautiful and most surreal places.

30 review for Hour of the Rat

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ramsey Hootman

    Can't afford airfare to China? Tag along with Ellie McEnroe... you'll see everything the "authentic traveler" dreams of: the back alleys, local dives, and idyllic off-the-beaten-path towns where natives still gawk at Westerners. And since this is fiction, you also get to experience the visceral thrills of Chinese intrigue, from lowlife thugs to high rollers with so much clout in the CCP that they're untouchable. Hour of the Rat is a weird, cool hybrid - travel narrative plus mystery. Brackmann i Can't afford airfare to China? Tag along with Ellie McEnroe... you'll see everything the "authentic traveler" dreams of: the back alleys, local dives, and idyllic off-the-beaten-path towns where natives still gawk at Westerners. And since this is fiction, you also get to experience the visceral thrills of Chinese intrigue, from lowlife thugs to high rollers with so much clout in the CCP that they're untouchable. Hour of the Rat is a weird, cool hybrid - travel narrative plus mystery. Brackmann is amazing at providing just the right little details to conjure up authentic Chinese life. Having lived there for a year myself, reading Brackmann's books is just like taking a quick trip back... except Ellie is the one who gets to deal with smoke-filled trains and annoying backpackers, not me. I enjoyed Hour of the Rat as much as I did Rock Paper Tiger - which, by the way, yes you do need to read first. This is a direct sequel and you'll miss a lot of character setup and background if you skip RPT. Let's see, stuff I didn't like... well, okay, this is more of a suggestion: This book could really use a map. Ellie travels all over the place, hopping on a train or plane in every other chapter. Brackmann makes each locale feel different and unique (while still patently Chinese), but my very visual brain wanted a layout of the geography. Ideally, I'd have a map graphic at the beginning of each chapter with Ellie's position updated. I think it would have been a cool, helpful addition. Also, I know it's customary for novels to skip over bodily functions, but I'll admit to wondering about how Ellie was getting around bathroom-wise. She injures her leg pretty badly at one point in the narrative, and after that rides a number of trains. About 3/4 of the way through the book she does finally use a squatty and has issues with it - but I kept wondering, what was she doing on train rides?! Especially drinking all that beer??? My bad... Apparently soft sleepers have western-style toilets. I preferred squatties, so I never noticed! Okay, back to the good stuff. The plot is awesome because it tackles a ton of current issues with China, stuff you may or may not have seen in the news. GMOs, poisoned food, China's empty cities, pollution, etc. etc. I stay pretty current on Chinese stuff, and Brackmann has totally done her research. Even stuff that's not central to the plot gets mentioned along the way. Altogether, it makes the book feel utterly authentic. In short: if you want to experience the shady underbelly of Chinese life, Hour of the Rat is your read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    Rock Paper Tiger was an unexpectedly good debut novel, and made Lisa Brackmann a crime fiction writer to look out for. I said that if she continued writing about the adventures of Ellie McEnroe I would be down for that, and lo and behold, here is a second book about Ellie. And while Hour of the Rat wraps up tidily, there were enough character issues left unresolved that more books seem very likely. This is good, since I've liked the first two a lot, though I do fear that the Ellie McEnroe series Rock Paper Tiger was an unexpectedly good debut novel, and made Lisa Brackmann a crime fiction writer to look out for. I said that if she continued writing about the adventures of Ellie McEnroe I would be down for that, and lo and behold, here is a second book about Ellie. And while Hour of the Rat wraps up tidily, there were enough character issues left unresolved that more books seem very likely. This is good, since I've liked the first two a lot, though I do fear that the Ellie McEnroe series will go the way so many crime/mysteries series do, eventually laboring under the weight of so many continuing characters and long-running plot threads that each book winds up indistinct and episodic. So far, though, the series is still fresh. Ellie McEnroe was a medic in the U.S. Army. She got a chunk blown out of her leg in Iraq, and now she has physical and psychological issues to deal with. She settled in China, originally because her then-husband brought her there when he got a job as a "security consultant." Now she's peripherally involved with the Chinese art scene, living as a semi-permanent expat and trying to stay out of trouble. A buddy of hers from the "sandbox" asks her to find his brother, who's somewhere in China and apparently in some trouble. Reluctantly, Ellie agrees. The brother turns out to be accused of eco-terrorism, and Ellie's hunt will bring her to the attention of powerful multinational corporations, the Chinese secret service, and an eccentric art-collecting billionaire. As with the previous book, it means she spends a lot of time running scared and getting beaten up and not knowing who exactly is after her. There isn't much to the "mystery" — what makes the book enjoyable is, of course, Ellie's outsider's view of China. This is a modern look at China, with its odd mix of authoritarian statism and hyper-capitalism, beautiful country villages and cities so polluted that the air is practically solid. A GMO seed company is the primary villain, but there is of course the ever-present though mostly easy to pretend-it-isn't-there surveillance by various organs of the Chinese government. The Chinese characters are often more cynical than Ellie is about their country, but they are as proud and as ambitious and as nationalistic as any Americans. Also, Ellie's mother, who drove her crazy last book with a constant stream of Jesus-loves-you emails, comes to China for a visit. Lisa Brackmann understands the value of comic relief characters. An altogether enjoyable read. For any fan of crime fiction or expat adventures, go ahead and get started on this series now — it's my hope that it will be around for a while.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    Hour of the Rat Review If you are looking for a genre-conforming, action packed thriller with all the details tied up in an easy, pretty bow for you at the end, this is not the book you’re looking for. If you, however, prefer a book with deep characterizations, exquisite descriptions, a terrifying real-world conspiracy, and action that occurs in sudden bursts of sheer terror, set in a county that is both surreally beautiful and maddeningly baffling, then this book should be at the top of your rea Hour of the Rat Review If you are looking for a genre-conforming, action packed thriller with all the details tied up in an easy, pretty bow for you at the end, this is not the book you’re looking for. If you, however, prefer a book with deep characterizations, exquisite descriptions, a terrifying real-world conspiracy, and action that occurs in sudden bursts of sheer terror, set in a county that is both surreally beautiful and maddeningly baffling, then this book should be at the top of your reading list. The description lays out the plot pretty well. In Hour of the Rat, Ms. Brackmann returns to China with her protagonist Ellie McEnroe, the lead from Rock, Paper, Tiger. Ellie is both physically and mentally scarred from her tour as a military medic in Iraq. Living as an ex-pat in China, she’s still trying to heal, to find her place, to work out the complicated relationships in her life. She’s working as a manager for a dissident artist, Zhang Jianli, introduced in Rock, Paper, Tiger, who has now gone deeply underground. Her estranged mother is now living with her, trying to heal the rifts in their lives. Then one of her Iraq war buddies, suffering from brain trauma incurred in the war, calls upon her for help finding his brother, lost somewhere in the sprawling, glorious, treacherous bowels of China. Ellie doesn’t have a lot of friends, certainly not the kind she can confide in or who’ll rush unquestioningly to her side to help. Mostly she has people who are sort of OK, or who offer something that masquerades as friendship with all sorts of strings and traps included. So when one of them says “she owes him”, she feels an obligation to try to help. And almost immediately finds herself tumbling down a rabbit hole, pursued by organizations that are at odds not only with her, but each other. When they’re not trying to use her for their own ends, they’re trying to kill her. Ellie is a complicated character. I like that about her. A lot. She’s flawed, a bit reckless, sometimes pig-headed in her pursuit of trying to help vague friends who wouldn’t dream of throwing her a rope if she was drowning. But she’s always true to her own core—the core that won’t allow her to quit, even if it would be in her own best interest, and a determination to see things through to the end, to prove to herself that she’s really doing the best that she can, even with her broken body and post traumatic stress disorder. She’s a broken, damaged, and deeply, deeply human character. She drinks too much beer and too much coffee. She’s in pain a lot from her war injuries and sometimes pops Percocet like candy. She swears and does stupid things sometimes and makes bad decisions. Just like real humans do. She’s dealing with life the best she can. And she’s trying to reach out, to help others. This is just one of Ms. Brackmann’s strengths in writing. She creates characters so three dimensional you almost feel as if you know them in real life—as if you could email them and say “Hey, Ellie, want to go for a beer?” Even her secondary characters are so finely illustrated it is as if they are based on real people the author met in her many journeys in China. And of course, China itself is a character, like a darkly compelling and utterly untrustworthy lover. Beautiful, lush, intoxicating, possessive, and dangerous as hell. And if you are a discerning reader, you will follow up on your own on the main plot thread of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and their real-world impact on the world’s food supply, and may be left as twitchy and unsettled about it as Ellie McEnroe is. This is a novel that couches authenticity in fiction, and captures the truth about us and the human condition—that we are all just trying to do our crummy best in a sometimes scary world. And that sometimes, if we are open to it, something good and lasting can come of it. Like this novel. I was exceedingly fortunate to receive an Advance Reading Copy of this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kate Sherwood

    I thought I was going to really like this book, based on the description, and I did really enjoy the first 1/4 or so. But then... it just got really repetitive (Heroine goes somewhere in rural China, drinks beer and takes Percocet, stumbles on a bit of information, gets threatened by locals and rescued by a man/improbable situation; lather, rinse, repeat). And the ending was REALLY unsatisfying. Is her leg seriously re-injured? Don't know. (If it isn't, why'd we have to hear so much about it?). I I thought I was going to really like this book, based on the description, and I did really enjoy the first 1/4 or so. But then... it just got really repetitive (Heroine goes somewhere in rural China, drinks beer and takes Percocet, stumbles on a bit of information, gets threatened by locals and rescued by a man/improbable situation; lather, rinse, repeat). And the ending was REALLY unsatisfying. Is her leg seriously re-injured? Don't know. (If it isn't, why'd we have to hear so much about it?). Is she going to let herself trust her lover? Don't know. Is she going to do ANYTHING with the information she's uncovered? Don't know. Is she going to get in trouble for the art connection? Don't know. I mean, what WAS resolved? I didn't realize that this was part of a series, so that's part of the issue, but even in a series there should be SOME sense of resolution at the end of the book, shouldn't there? I loved the setting, I liked the main character and the love interest (and the dog), but I found the overall experience unsatisfying.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I did not read the first Ellie book, but I did download a sample of it. My library just had this second book for me to borrow, but there was sufficient information for me to understand the building blocks of her hard-nosed personality. I tried this due to Cara Black's review, author of one of my favorite series with a strong female detective operating in Paris. This character lives in Beijing, so we get quite the travelogue of China as Ellie searches for the brother of one of her Iraq buddies. L I did not read the first Ellie book, but I did download a sample of it. My library just had this second book for me to borrow, but there was sufficient information for me to understand the building blocks of her hard-nosed personality. I tried this due to Cara Black's review, author of one of my favorite series with a strong female detective operating in Paris. This character lives in Beijing, so we get quite the travelogue of China as Ellie searches for the brother of one of her Iraq buddies. Like Cara's Aimee, Ellie puts herself in harm's way repeatedly. She eventually finds the brother, but what a challenging ride it is. A whole lot of beer and percocet is required to cope with pain from attack targeted on her already compromised left leg that goes back to a war injury. There are so many players following her she can't figure out who is who. Who is behind the mystery seeds presenting environmental concerns? No spoilers. You get China, Chinese phrases, young woman trying to get along with a mother who attaches to men rather too quickly, glimpses of many levels of Chinese population and a large dose of swear words. I may be a tad too old to fully embrace this prickly pear of a heroine. 3.5 Stars from 5 for me

  6. 5 out of 5

    Catherine McKenzie

    When ex-pat and Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe is contacted by her old army buddy to help track down his missing brother, Ellie figures she can give some peace of mind to an old friend and see some more of her adopted home, China. What follows is a suspenseful and often surprising ride through back alleys, dumpling shops, the art world and virtual reality. I really enjoyed Ellie's first adventure in Rock, Paper, Tiger, and it was nice to see Brackmann come back to her here. Ellie is the perfect mix When ex-pat and Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe is contacted by her old army buddy to help track down his missing brother, Ellie figures she can give some peace of mind to an old friend and see some more of her adopted home, China. What follows is a suspenseful and often surprising ride through back alleys, dumpling shops, the art world and virtual reality. I really enjoyed Ellie's first adventure in Rock, Paper, Tiger, and it was nice to see Brackmann come back to her here. Ellie is the perfect mix of tough, funny, vulnerable and sarcastic, and she always takes us on fascinating tours of China while solving compelling mysteries. I can't wait to see what Ellie (and Brackmann) will get up to next.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I am so glad Lisa Brackmann wrote another story about Ellie McEnroe. The first one, "Rock, Paper, Tiger" was very dark and left me worried about Ellie. So Lisa has done me the favor of catching me up with Ellie again, and she is okay! Well, sort of. Ellie's mom is in Beijing, staying with her for a seemingly never-ending visit. And Mom has taken up with one of Ellie's neighbors, Andy, which Ellie finds a bit... awkward. Then there is the extremely persistent assistant, Vicky Huang, who won't stop I am so glad Lisa Brackmann wrote another story about Ellie McEnroe. The first one, "Rock, Paper, Tiger" was very dark and left me worried about Ellie. So Lisa has done me the favor of catching me up with Ellie again, and she is okay! Well, sort of. Ellie's mom is in Beijing, staying with her for a seemingly never-ending visit. And Mom has taken up with one of Ellie's neighbors, Andy, which Ellie finds a bit... awkward. Then there is the extremely persistent assistant, Vicky Huang, who won't stop pestering Ellie about the opportunity to buy a piece of art by Lao Zhao, Ellie's former lover and now refugee, running from the Chinese secret police. It all gets rather complicated (like it wasn't already?) when Ellie's friend, Dog Turner, asks for her help finding his younger brother, who was last known to be somewhere in China. Ellie feels obligated to help (there is more to this story), so she talks her mom into going on a little vacation, which just happens to be the last know location of Dog's brother, Jason. Poor Ellie has no idea what can of worms she has opened, and then the secret police "invite her for tea" which is a polite way of telling her she is informally being questioned, and it really is time for Ellie to get out of town for a while. So much going on in this story! But I loved it, and I stayed up late just to finish. Really good, thanks, Lisa B!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Doyle

    Soho Crime kindly gave me a pre-pub copy of this book at a recent conference. It's the second book in the series. Ellie McEnroe is a Iraqi War vet, injured in the conflict. She's moved to Beijing, where she's an artist rep for a politically incorrect artist that the security forces would like to talk to. Ellie decides to leave town for a while, with her mother and her new boyfriend in tow, to look for the brother of an old army buddy. Things are not as they seem as Ellie ducks and weaves in her Soho Crime kindly gave me a pre-pub copy of this book at a recent conference. It's the second book in the series. Ellie McEnroe is a Iraqi War vet, injured in the conflict. She's moved to Beijing, where she's an artist rep for a politically incorrect artist that the security forces would like to talk to. Ellie decides to leave town for a while, with her mother and her new boyfriend in tow, to look for the brother of an old army buddy. Things are not as they seem as Ellie ducks and weaves in her journey through southern China to track Jason. I found the book interesting and an entertaining way to spend a cross-country plane ride. Ellie was an interesting character and her interaction with her mother, the secret police and others made for an enjoyable read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ann Mah

    China is a brilliant setting for a thriller and Lisa Brackmann really, really gets the place. This book made me so nostalgic for my expat days in Beijing, I put it down only to scarf dumplings.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Prim

    Welcome back Ellie! Lately, I've happened to read quite a few great, well-written stories with completely unlikeable characters, and what a relief to read a great, well-written story with a character you're actually rooting for! Ellie is perfect in her fully flawed imperfection, and the story kept me on the edge of my seat - will she find Jason? What is he really up to? And will we find out more about the mysterious disappearance of Zhang? I absolutely fell in love with one of the characters Ell Welcome back Ellie! Lately, I've happened to read quite a few great, well-written stories with completely unlikeable characters, and what a relief to read a great, well-written story with a character you're actually rooting for! Ellie is perfect in her fully flawed imperfection, and the story kept me on the edge of my seat - will she find Jason? What is he really up to? And will we find out more about the mysterious disappearance of Zhang? I absolutely fell in love with one of the characters Ellie meets in her quest, and reluctantly liked a few others. I particularly enjoyed each time she sized up her current situation (and her poor battered body), determined that it was clearly in her best interest to give up the search... -and continued her quest, anyway. And in the midst of it all, she even manages to rescue Mi Mi - how can you not want to hang out with Ellie? The food policy issue with the GMOs was quite topical; one that needs to be addressed more and more, but Lisa does not hit us over the head with this issue or preach at us. She just lays out possibilities of what is happening - and what could happen. And OMG Xingfu Cun had me googling all the other replicas in China; mind boggling! I cannot wait for book 3 to come out, solve some still mysterious plot twists, discover more about China, but most of all, to reunite with this great character Lisa has brought into our lives.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    While Hour of the Rat could be read as a stand-alone, after the first few chapters I really wanted more context and character back-story, so I downloaded and read the first book, Rock Paper Tiger, on my Kindle, after which much of my weekend was consumed by the two books. Both books are set in China and excel at giving the reader a vivid and fascinating sense of place, and both books also have something that was new for me and I thought very cool--scenes set in online computer games. Since the e While Hour of the Rat could be read as a stand-alone, after the first few chapters I really wanted more context and character back-story, so I downloaded and read the first book, Rock Paper Tiger, on my Kindle, after which much of my weekend was consumed by the two books. Both books are set in China and excel at giving the reader a vivid and fascinating sense of place, and both books also have something that was new for me and I thought very cool--scenes set in online computer games. Since the earlier story, things have settled down for Ellie. Though her Iraq War injury is still painful, her relationship-challenged mother is on an extended visit, and she continues to drink too much, Ellie’s life has a precarious kind of balance. She’s making a decent living managing the artwork of an artist authorities would like to question, but no one is harassing her about him. Then an old army buddy asks her to try to locate his missing brother, who's somewhere in China but facing charges in the US for environmental activism, and it’s like she’s kicked open a hornets nest. While its suspense is gripping and its environmental realities are sobering, this book is also packed with humor. My fingers are crossed hoping that there will be a third book about Ellie.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jaime Boler

    I love everything Lisa writes so I just had to interview her. Jaime Boler: Thank you so much, Lisa, for letting me ask you these questions. I’ve always been a huge fan of yours from your Rock Paper Tiger days and Hour of the Rat is a clever, taut sequel. You have worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, as an issues researcher for a presidential campaign, and as a singer/songwriter/bassist in a rock band. What made you want to write novels? Lisa Brackmann: I really wanted to write I love everything Lisa writes so I just had to interview her. Jaime Boler: Thank you so much, Lisa, for letting me ask you these questions. I’ve always been a huge fan of yours from your Rock Paper Tiger days and Hour of the Rat is a clever, taut sequel. You have worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, as an issues researcher for a presidential campaign, and as a singer/songwriter/bassist in a rock band. What made you want to write novels? Lisa Brackmann: I really wanted to write fiction before I did any of those other things you mention above. I’ve told the story before, but I tried to write my first novel at the age of five. It was to be an epic adventure about cats who went camping. Unfortunately I did not know how to spell “tent.” This is a true story. I wrote fiction on and off when I was young, and none of it was very good, but I did have an idea how to construct a narrative, and writing was something that I was very passionate about. I studied writing briefly in college – one of my professors was Lydia Davis, who just won the Man Booker Prize and who had a tremendous influence on me. She helped teach me how to see the world with greater precision. But I got to a point where writing felt like I was constantly living my life as source material rather than actually living it, so I took a break and got into music. Later, I worked in the film industry, and like just about everyone in Los Angeles, I wrote a couple screenplays and a bunch of teleplays. I really enjoyed those projects, but they aren’t finished until someone decides to produce them – and given the weirdness of what I tended to write, the odds of that happening weren’t great. I decided to write a novel for fun while I came up with that high concept screenplay idea that was going to make me rich. I never did come up with the high concept screenplay, but I found that I really enjoyed writing novels. Even if I didn’t sell them, they were complete in themselves. I found that really satisfying. JB: Your first novel, Rock Paper Tiger, was selected by Amazon as one of its Top 100 books of 2010 and a Top 10 pick in the Rock Paper Tiger mystery/thriller category. It was also nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. What was that experience like? LB: I’m friends with a bunch of writers, and in one of the groups I’m in, we call it “The Emo-Coaster.” When you’re a working author, you have tremendous highs, and crashing lows, regardless of how hard you try to stay balanced. It’s just very weird to have something you worked so hard on, that is such a personal expression, out there in the world being judged. This is especially true for debuts, I think – it’s all a new experience. I really didn’t expect much to happen with Rock Paper Tiger – I was happy to be published, but I knew something about the reality of the lifecycle of most books. So when the book ended up doing pretty well, I was surprised. I remember at one point, feeling this weird rushing sensation – like, whoa, this is actually kind of taking off. Maybe I have a career doing this after all. At the same time that it was unexpected, I also felt like I’d really found my tribe, for the first time – that being a writer, being around other writers and around people who really care about books – this was where I belonged. Getaway JB: Getaway, your second novel, is a standalone book. Was it good to get back to the characters and setting of your debut? LB: I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel to Rock Paper Tiger, but realized that there were still more stories that I wanted to tell about Ellie McEnroe and about China. I never find writing novels to be easy, but writing Hour of the Rat was definitely less hard than others. A lot of the groundwork is already done; you know who these people are and what they tend to want. As for the setting, I’d felt that I’d barely scratched the surface of the richness and complexity that is today’s China. My formative experience in China was in 1979, and though I’d been back at least a half a dozen times before writing Rock Paper Tiger, I’d kept going back after, and felt that I could bring a little more depth and insight into a new book than I’d been able to bring to the first. So it was great to return to China and to Ellie. I really had a lot of fun with it. JB: What attracts you to writing existential thrillers? LB: I like to think of myself as a realist. I’m very interested in big issues, but the reality is, unlike superhero or James Bond movies, the ability of one person to have a significant impact on global conspiracies, you know, the typical stuff of thrillers, is pretty limited. For most people, if you care about things, you have to learn how to deal with a world that doesn’t really care about you. You’re up against institutions and individuals that are extremely powerful, and all the weapons, both real and metaphoric, are on their side. Realistically, you don’t get to defeat those villains. Mostly, you just have to try and do your best and figure out how you’re going to live with that reality. I’m interested in “ordinary” people as opposed to superheroes, who not only have to survive whatever perils they’ve been placed in, but who are trying to figure out how to live in the world. JB: How would you describe Hour of the Rat? LB: A romp through environmental apocalypse in China with accidental Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe. JB: What provided the inspiration for Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe, the lead character in both Rock Paper Tiger and Hour of the Rat? Is she based on anyone in real life? LB: The years before I started writing Rock Paper Tiger, I’d been following the news about the Iraq War and the War on Terror pretty closely. I was fascinated by figures like Jessica Lynch, who’d joined the National Guard to get some extra money–there were no jobs at Wal-Mart, and she wanted to go to school and study to be a teacher—and then when she was captured by Iraqi forces, she became a symbol of the war in a way that she never wanted to be. On the flipside, you had Lynndie England, brought up in a trailer park in Appalachia in an abusive family and who was implicated in the torture at Abu Ghraib–one of the few individuals actually prosecuted for this, along with other low-level soldiers – none of the architects of the abuses were ever punished. I wanted to deal with the Iraq War and the War on Terror in [Rock Paper Tiger], so I came up with the character of Ellie McEnroe, an accidental war vet who’d joined the National Guard to get health insurance and maybe some money for college, and ended up in a situation way above her pay grade. Unlike say, a Lynndie England, Ellie has a strong sense of right and wrong and also, of guilt. I just sort of imagined her background and her experiences, and channeled who she would be, if that makes any sense. JB: Ellie or “Yili” was born in the Year of the Rat. According to a website that explains the Chinese zodiac, “The Rat is quick-witted. Most rats get more accomplished in 24 hours than the rest of us do in as many days. They are confident and usually have good instincts. Stubborn as they are, they prefer to live by their own rules rather than those of others.” Is this why you chose that sign for Ellie? And why you chose Hour of the Rat as your title? LB: I think, actually, that I chose her sign sort of backwards – I needed her to be a certain age in Rock Paper Tiger, and the birth-date I picked for her landed her in the year of the Rat. I thought that the Rat sounded like a good sign for Ellie – stubborn and quick-witted and living by her own rules – though she must have some other influences that undermine that whole “good instincts” part, because even when she knows that it’s a bad idea to do something, she tends to go ahead and do it anyway! Since Rock Paper Tiger came out in the Year of the Tiger – which, by the way, was totally unplanned, it just happened that way – I thought maybe carrying over the Chinese astrology theme for the title would be cool. As Ellie explains in the book, Chinese astrology, like Western astrology, has rising signs, based on the time of day you’re born. Each “Hour” is actually two, and the Hour of the Rat is between 11 PM and 1 AM. I was actually born in the Hour of the Rat, and I don’t know, I just liked the way it sounded and the images that it conjured up. JB: How different were earlier versions of Hour of the Rat compared to the final copy? LB: Not very. One of my beta readers made a very smart observation about how a plot reveal I’d initially done early on sort of undermined the tension, so I moved that around. My amazing editor at Soho, Juliet Grames, suggested the addition of a prologue, to put people back into Ellie’s world, and had some notes about strengthening certain emotional arcs and story points. Overall, though, I was really lucky with this book – it basically came out in the first draft pretty much the way that it went to print. Would that they were all so easy! JB: Do you have a favorite character in this story? If so, who? LB: I like them all, of course, but I will admit to a particular fondness for Kang Li, the macho guy with a soft spot for cats. JB: You traveled to China shortly after the Cultural Revolution. How did that visit affect you and also your writing? The author in China. LB: It completely changed the course of my life. I was twenty years old, and China at that time had been very closed off to the West and to Western cultural influences. When I showed up it was like being from the Starship Enterprise, and I’d beamed down to this strange planet. Americans, especially young Americans, were objects of intense curiosity and speculation—most of the Chinese we encountered hadn’t met many, or any Americans, so we took on this weird symbolic role, too. At the same time, there really weren’t any American pop culture influences in China at that time, other than bootlegged tapes of The Sound Of Music and TV broadcasts of a short-lived TV series starring Patrick Duffy called The Man From Atlantis (which was filmed in my hometown of San Diego, making it even weirder to see in Beijing, China!). American pop culture is so globally pervasive that being someplace where it was absent was oddly liberating. I was in China for six months but the whole thing was so intense that it felt like Experience Concentrate. It took me years to put it all in context and to really fully integrate the experience. I don’t think I really did until I started studying Mandarin years later and began to travel back to China. In terms of the writing, if you compared examples of my prose before and after China, I don’t think you’d recognize them as being by the same person. JB: World-wide environmental and political issues are of significant importance to you. How easy or how difficult is it to Lisa Brackmann incorporate the things that matter to you into your fiction? LB: I always say that my stories are about character meets setting meets something that I’m passionate about – the kind of issues you mention above help provide the passion. The main thing I have to work on is incorporating those kinds of topics into the story in an organic way. I want to avoid info dumps and a lot of didactic speechifying. I’m writing suspense novels, not academic non-fiction or political polemics. JB: What is different this time around compared to when you were writing Rock Paper Tiger? LB: Pretty different on a lot of levels. When I wrote Rock Paper Tiger, I didn’t have an agent. I hadn’t sold a book. There were no particular expectations on me other than the ones I put on myself. Hour of the Rat is my third published novel, and there’s a whole process that goes along with that. I can’t say that I’m exactly used to it, but I’m somewhat familiar with it at least. JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing Hour of the Rat? LB: Probably that I had to take certain aspects of Rock Paper Tiger that I had intended to be a little metaphoric – the open-endedness of the parts of the story to me was an expression of what the book was about. But in a sequel, you don’t have the same leeway to leave that many areas mysterious. I had to make decisions about how to ground these things in reality. JB: Did you learn anything new about yourself in the midst of writing the novel? LB: Mostly that I could write a book on a schedule and with a deadline, and that as long as I planned my time wisely, I could do that. JB: What is a typical day of writing like for Lisa Brackmann? LB: I get up and do my email and reading. I edit any work I did the night before. When I’m on a roll or have a lot to do, I have a writing session after that. Then late afternoon, I go out and get some exercise – either I go to the gym, or I take a long walk to do errands. I think it’s super-important for writers not to neglect their bodies, which is easy to do when your job is so much in your head and there’s so much sitting involved! My latest favorite form of exercise is old-school weight training—dead-lifts and bench presses and the like. I’m loving it. I usually read novels or books for research and/or watch some TV in the early evening. I save the tough creative work for late night. I’ve always been a night owl, and I got into the habit of writing late at night when I had a full-time day job. I just sort of trained myself into it: “Now is the time to be creative and work.” For whatever reason it’s when my focus is best and when I am most able to problem-solve. Maybe for me it’s easier to be creative when everyone around me is asleep. Mixed in with all this is socializing with friends and family, which is another thing that I think is really essential. Most writers are introverts, and for a lot of us, at times we think of other people as intrusions and interruptions. While it’s true that we need to be able to shut the door and work, I think for me, it’s important to not isolate. Besides, people and their conflicts are at the center of what we write. If we just stay in our rooms all day and don’t talk to anyone, what are we going to write about? Of course, then, I have to make sure that I’m not socializing as a form of procrastination, which has been known to happen. Also, cats. Generally there are cats involved. I’m sitting next to one as I type this. JB: Will you go on a book tour? If so, which cities will you visit? LB: I’m mostly going to focus on California this time out, so I’m doing events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and Orange County. I’ll also be at Bouchercon in Albany, NY, in September and am hoping to do a few gigs in New York City around that. JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Hour of the Rat? LB: I hope they get a little sense of what China is like, and maybe take away that the tough things we need to face in many cases are global in scale. What happens in China affects us in the US, and vice-versa. And that maybe there are certain aspects of our global economy that are pretty [screwed] up, that don’t benefit most people and that don’t benefit the planet. Also, I hope that it’s a book people can escape into for a few hours, go somewhere different, and at the end that they enjoyed the ride. JB: What’s next for you? Are you working on anything new? I certainly look forward to the return of Lao Zhang. LB: I’m working on the third book in the series, tentatively called Dragon Day. The end of Hour of the Rat actually is setting up for a sequel – there are some plot threads running through the first two books that I feel I need to draw to a conclusion. So, yes, you will see Lao Zhang! I’m also working on a sequel to my second book, Getaway. It’s very different from that book, with a more satiric edge, but it also deals with issues that I’m very interested in exploring: the prison system in the US, particularly private prisons, and the relationship between that and the War on Drugs. Also, I’m having a lot of fun with the main character, Michelle, who I’m just going to say is not the woman she was at the beginning of Getaway, and the villain of the piece, who gets so much joy out of screwing with peoples’ lives—a man who truly loves his work. JB: Thanks, Lisa, for a wonderful interview. Good luck with the book! LB: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Robert Carraher

    Lisa Brackmann’s new novel, Hour of the Rat promised to be a very good international crime thriller and it lives up to that billing very well. The second in what promises to be a very important series, bringing back Ellie Cooper from her electrifying debut, 2010’s Rock Paper Tiger, and what an encore performance it is. Ellie McEnroe is an Iraqi war vet, constantly reminded of the wound she suffered to her leg and haunted by her experiences in the war. Having followed her now ex-husband ,a one tim Lisa Brackmann’s new novel, Hour of the Rat promised to be a very good international crime thriller and it lives up to that billing very well. The second in what promises to be a very important series, bringing back Ellie Cooper from her electrifying debut, 2010’s Rock Paper Tiger, and what an encore performance it is. Ellie McEnroe is an Iraqi war vet, constantly reminded of the wound she suffered to her leg and haunted by her experiences in the war. Having followed her now ex-husband ,a one time army interrogator , Trey, to China she finds herself a drift. From her marriage, from her country and from “normal” people. Adding to her on-the-edge psyche is her mother, a born again Christian despite her serial bad relationships with seemingly every man she meets. Ellie is now, though thoroughly unqualified, working as an artists agent for her one time love interest Lao Zhang, whose work is viewed as subversive by the Chinese government. Seeking a bit or release from her chaotic life she decides to do a favor for a fellow wounded Iraqi vet, Dog Turner. Dog’ brother, Jason is a politically active left winger whose politics seems more driven by his hormones than any idealism but he has gone missing in picturesque Yangshuo, a famous tourist destination. Before she can begin her quest to find Jason, Ellie is asked to “have tea”, a euphemism for come in for questioning, with a Pompadoured Chinese Bureaucrat who works for The Domestic Security Directorate. The DSD’s motto translates to something like “Leniency for those who confess. Severity for those who refuse” They are interested in Ellie’s relationship with Lao Zhang. Why he would employ an American who has no training in art to sell his paintings and if perhaps she holds this position of employment because she works for the American government. More importantly, Pompadour wants to talk with Lao Zhang. Ellie has a clandestine way to contact Lao, through a secret and massive interactive online game that is more a place for dissidents to meet and exchange intelligence than an actual game. Ellie explains that she doesn’t speak with Lao often, and only then by email. This doesn’t satisfy the DSD but they choose to watch her instead of throw her in jail. Finally free to travel in search of the illusive Jason, Ellie finds her mother has insinuated herself into the trip, so when Ellie adjusts her mind, stocks her supply of pain killers, and accepts the journey as a sort of mother-daughter get away, she is less than pleased to find out her mother is bringing along her latest flame, “that nice Mr. Zhou next door”. But where Ellie held out little hope of locating Jason, when she peruses the few leads that Dog could give her, she finds herself pulled into a world where the DSD is following her, her ex-husband and his new love, “that bitch, Lily Ping.”keep showing up in the out of the way places she travels to, and she keeps getting emails and phone calls from a secretive Chinese billionaire art collector bent on acquiring Lao Zhangs work even though Ellie has received instructions to take his work off the market. Ellie’s Percocet and beer fueled search for Jason leads her through back alleys for secretive meetings, dumpling shops, the art world and virtual reality eventually taking her to some of China’s most beautiful a surreal landscapes. Ellie’s search uncovers a very secretive and dangerous biotech company that might just be involved in genetically altering food crops. Pitted against this conglomerate are people that know or knew Jason and are involved in eco-terrorism. The many characters she meets are entertaining and through them the many facets of the country that is China are revealed. We meet shop girls, factory workers Uigar dissidents, and the quirky people that populate the Chinese art world…and don’t forget the cats.. She’ll make you feel like you are walking the densely populated streets, eating in the small shops and trying to find cold beer. If Brackmann had stopped there, we would have one of the best thrillers of the year. She manages to weave so many topical subjects and culturally revealing snap shots of the real China into the story, and never lets the detail bog it down. The many quirky characters are brought to life on the page with a realism that few writers can obtain. The sense of place, both in the fantastical locales and in the dirty mean streets , the subversive online game -which is more virtual reality hangout than game -, and the Chinese art world make the reader feel like they have been here before. The egotistic and threatening government officials feel like government functionaries the world over. And Ellie herself, a strong women, yet vulnerable. Flawed yet moral and with a sense of loyalty, is a character the reader will fall in love with, like that slightly wild younger sibling. And without preaching, she brings to the readers mind the damage our recent wars can do to the people that fight them and the sense of alienation they are often left with. In short, Brackmann has used all the writers tools effortlessly and flawlessly. She has told a story that both entertains and educates, and the plot, with its many facets, its many characters is still easy to follow and get hooked on. But she doesn’t stop there. Since the days of Raymond Chandler and on the pages where he invented the hardboiled world of Philip Marlowe and the dark and seedy characters on both sides of the law that he encountered, the noir/hardboiled/detective story has always been dialog-centric. Whether that dialog has been snappy repartee between characters or the inner dialog as the protagonist struggles with their own morals or the pieces of a puzzle. Chandler was fond of saying that he only captured the language of the common man. Most critic think he took that hard bitten and cynical prose of the street and made it poetry. Regardless, the hardboiled dialog, both darkly humorous and threateningly dangerous has become the trademark of the genre. Many authors have tried to capture it, reinvent it as their own and parodied it to where it became more caricature than character. Most modern and hugely successful authors that write in the spirit of Chandler for the past twenty or thirty years avoid it; Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder, Walter Mosley's EZ Rawlins weren’t smart mouthed, quick with a line characters, their street wise style was displayed through their inner dialogue and the dark side of their own personas. James Ellroy developed a style and a language that was a mix of police vernacular and jazz-drug patios that is uniquely his own, but doesn’t even pay homage to the ghost of Philip Marlowe. But nobody has updated it. Taken those Chandleresque phrases and brought them into the twenty-first century with any success. Until now. What those who ended up with parodies of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade forgot was Chandler’s dialog was the real speech of the man on the street. The common man.What Brackmann has done with the dialog in Hour Of The Rat and Rock, Paper, Tiger before it is to take the modern language of the common man – or woman in this case, and make of it a modern, twenty-first century hardboiled dialog. When Ellie is being questioned by the authorities her answers are both sass and jive. But they aren’t lifted from some 1940s “B” movie They are, however, the responses a modern, hard bitten woman such as Iraqi war vet Ellie might respond with. When she runs up against tough street thugs or reluctant witnesses the dialog is both in your face and street slang. In short, Brackmann has topped off a perfect, darkly humorous, hip novel and gone one better by writing dialog that is Chandleresque yet thug modern. She has set the bar high for anyone wishing to write at the top of their game in the noir genre. When Ellie is showing Jason’s photo around to doormen at night clubs and a guy hits on her and invites her for a drink later on. ‘ “Maybe,” I say, and smile back, because he helped me and he’s sort of cute, in a slouchy, borderline-delinquent kind of way.’ It could be Chandler writing in The High Window, “A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.” When Ellie reflects on her loss of faith and thinks, “When people talk about how your faith gets tested, they always say that trials make your faith stronger. What they don’t say is that sometimes faith just dissolves like desert sand between your fingers.” I am reminded of a scene from The Little Sister where Marlowe “…" put the duster away folded with the dust in it, leaned back and just sat, not smoking, not even thinking. I was a blank man. I had no face, no meaning, no personality, hardly a name. I didn't want to eat. I didn't even want a drink. I was the page from yesterday's calendar crumpled at the bottom of the waste basket." It’s a realism that mirrors life. Yet the book is full of wry humor, just like life. It’s introspective in places, and wildly entertaining in others. Just like life. Brackmann has pulled off a wonderful piece of work that will be quoted, cited and reread for all of its nuances for a long time to come. Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive in the Hollywood film industry, been politically active in a presidential election and been a singer/songwriter/bass player with an L.A. Rock Band. She has spent considerable time in China, where she experienced first hand all the different faces of modern China and uses those experiences to paint the background of her novels. Her debut novel, Rock, Paper, Tiger made several “Best of 2010″ lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, Getaway, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. The Dirty Lowdown Copyright © 2013 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

  14. 5 out of 5

    MD

    I truly enjoyed this book. It is a fast read with an interesting main character and setting. Ellie is a recent Iraq veteran living in Beijing. She has personal baggage that helps make her feel real and interesting including a leg injury from Iraq that affects her quality of life. The author also gives her a just enough attitude to make her feel fun , not rude or crude. The dialog in this book is first class. It's a good thing that Ellie is a strong character because her costar in this book is Chin I truly enjoyed this book. It is a fast read with an interesting main character and setting. Ellie is a recent Iraq veteran living in Beijing. She has personal baggage that helps make her feel real and interesting including a leg injury from Iraq that affects her quality of life. The author also gives her a just enough attitude to make her feel fun , not rude or crude. The dialog in this book is first class. It's a good thing that Ellie is a strong character because her costar in this book is China which would otherwise steal the show! I've read a lot about contemporary China in news stories but Ms. Brackman takes us behind the scenes as it were to see some of the locations and issues I've read about from the point of view of people who live with them day in and day out. I learned some things too. I had read about backpacker culture in Thailand, for example, but didn't realize it was big in China too. Although I liked this book immensely and plan to recommend t to some of my friends and family members, there were a couple of things that bugged me too: Exposition: Apparently there is one or more previous books featuring Ellie. From time to time the author references characters and events from this history. It is jarringly obvious when she is doing this. Fortunately it doesn't happen very often, but even so I think more information is provided than is strictly needed and it seems like it could have been worked into the story a little more smoothly. Deus ex machina: In (too) many books there is a character who is so wealthy that he can solve almost any problem by throwing money at it. Sometimes it is the main character and then you're got a fantasy like Batman. When it isn't he main character but that character acts to further the protagonist's ends the author has an obligation to make those actions believable. I didn't feel the actions and the motivations behind them were believable here, leading to a weak ending to an otherwise excellent book. So. Overall, I highly recommend this as a fun and interesting read in spite of a slightly disappointing ending.

  15. 5 out of 5

    James

    Hour of the Rat is the second novel featuring Ellie McEnroe, an American living in current day China. Ellie is a former Iraq vet who has a knack for making friends who are viewed suspiciously by the national authorities. She tries to do a favor for a former war buddy named Dog and this sends her off on a mission to find the brother of Dog, a young man named Jason, who has disappeared after making some videos that have been posted to the net. Her quest attracts the attentions of the Domestic Secur Hour of the Rat is the second novel featuring Ellie McEnroe, an American living in current day China. Ellie is a former Iraq vet who has a knack for making friends who are viewed suspiciously by the national authorities. She tries to do a favor for a former war buddy named Dog and this sends her off on a mission to find the brother of Dog, a young man named Jason, who has disappeared after making some videos that have been posted to the net. Her quest attracts the attentions of the Domestic Security Department, a kind of Chinese FBI. Ellie decides it's time to leave Beijing and follow the bread crumbs that might lead to Jason. From this point, we follow Ellie on a tour of the Chinese countryside, a world where the traditional small communities are collapsing and being replaced by new cities dominated by factories building all kinds of electronics and much more. Ellie never takes the easy way out and her sense of loyalty to her old army friend Dog is unswerving, even in situations where the more faint of heart would decide it's better to return to Beijing and enjoy a few beers. Brackmann's picture of China is nuanced and feels like the back story of how China has changed in the time since they hosted the Olympics. There's lots of money slushing around, but there are also a lot of people who are caught up in the squeeze as the nation transitions from an agricultural to manufacturing economy. I'd recommend that readers first read the predecessor novel, Rock Paper Tiger, which introduced Ellie and lays out some of the back story which flavors Hour of the Rat. This latest novel works well as a thriller that keeps one on the edge of their seat, but also tells you more about today's China than you'll get from the evening news or even the in-depth coverage of a newsmagazine story. The world is changing and China is a leading player. Ellie's story gives us a glimpse of that world through the eyes of an American ex-pat. Her voice is cynical but consistent -- China's a tough place to live, but she doesn't really want to be anywhere else.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Kay

    Disclaimer: I received this book directly from the publisher as part of the GoodReads First Reads giveaway. My copy is an ARC and the book has been edited for the final version. Disclaimer 2: I have not read the first in this series, Rock Paper Tiger. With all of that said, I'm not totally sold on this book. Ellie is some odd cross between "look at me, I'm bad-ass" and "oh no I f***ed everything up again, cry, cry." Don't get me wrong, I like her to some degree, but as a main character she just d Disclaimer: I received this book directly from the publisher as part of the GoodReads First Reads giveaway. My copy is an ARC and the book has been edited for the final version. Disclaimer 2: I have not read the first in this series, Rock Paper Tiger. With all of that said, I'm not totally sold on this book. Ellie is some odd cross between "look at me, I'm bad-ass" and "oh no I f***ed everything up again, cry, cry." Don't get me wrong, I like her to some degree, but as a main character she just doesn't seem to have what it takes to pull me in. And she's a whiner. I don't like whiners. I also wasn't totally enamored with the "mystery" here. I think Brackmann was trying to play in the realm of "Dragon Tattoo" and the twists and turns of modern crime. However, she comes up short. Nothing is ever resolved, I'm still not sure if there was an actual problem, and there are too many characters that come out of nowhere. And then these characters just disappear. In fact, there's an entire scene where Ellie is somehow scared that she is going to be arrested for dealing drugs that is so far fetched and out of place it seems like it came from another story all together. This makes for a tough to follow read, since Brackmann is constantly jumping around between who could be setting up Ellie, what kind of trouble Ellie is getting into, and what the actual point of her "mission" is. There is some resolution in the end, but I was left feeling as if the book hadn't finished - and after 371 pages - it should have finished a long time ago. As for Brackmann's writing, she falls in the basic choppy language that has become crime fiction. Her characters are flat and under developed, and she tries to hard to increase action. There are way too many times where Ellie is attacked from behind and the book just drags on for a bit too long. About 3.25 stars. And .25 of that is for the cover, which looks great.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard Burger

    I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Hour of the Rat, and within a couple weeks I had read it twice. It's that good. Lisa Brackmann set a tall order for herself in writing a sequel to Rock Paper Tiger, her debut novel that established her as a perceptive critic of contemporary China and a writer capable of creating characters we truly care about (or loathe) and a story line that captivates. The hero, Elle McEnroe, is still popping Percocets to deal with the pain of a leg wound she suf I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Hour of the Rat, and within a couple weeks I had read it twice. It's that good. Lisa Brackmann set a tall order for herself in writing a sequel to Rock Paper Tiger, her debut novel that established her as a perceptive critic of contemporary China and a writer capable of creating characters we truly care about (or loathe) and a story line that captivates. The hero, Elle McEnroe, is still popping Percocets to deal with the pain of a leg wound she suffered in the Iraq war, and remains an ideal protagonist -- tough, funny, moral, daring and complex. Once again she embarks on a roller-coaster ride across China, this time in search of the missing brother of her war buddy. From a horrific "cancer village" to the Versailles-like mansion of one of China's billionaire nouveau riche, the images Brackmann paints along the way are indelible, and her attention to the finest detail is remarkable. The book manages to amuse, to enrage, to shock, and always to delight. It moves fast and furious, and it leaves you thirsting for the next in the series. On a more serious note, it makes a strong statement on China's environmental challenges (as in catastrophes), but always in a way that is entertaining. Infuriating perhaps, but entertaining. Anyone interested in contemporary Chinese culture has to read this book, but that's not a prerequisite: this is wonderful summer reading for anyone who loves a good chase, a good mystery, a panoply of richly drawn-out characters and a sumptuous writing style.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Several years ago I was taken by Lisa Brackmann's debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, so was anxious to read the sequel. I loved the Ellie McEnroe character. She's spunky and brazen, and can compete with any man. In THE HOUR OF THE RAT, she's back in Beijing, this time sharing her apartment with her flaky mother. Mom McEnroe, who has been unlucky in love, starts a relationship with a middle aged Chinese neighbor named Andy. Ellie wants nothing to do with the lovebirds and quickly becomes sidetracked w Several years ago I was taken by Lisa Brackmann's debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, so was anxious to read the sequel. I loved the Ellie McEnroe character. She's spunky and brazen, and can compete with any man. In THE HOUR OF THE RAT, she's back in Beijing, this time sharing her apartment with her flaky mother. Mom McEnroe, who has been unlucky in love, starts a relationship with a middle aged Chinese neighbor named Andy. Ellie wants nothing to do with the lovebirds and quickly becomes sidetracked when she's called on by an old flame/fellow Iraq veteran to find his lost, bipolar brother somewhere in China. On her new mission, Ellie travels from Beijing to Yangshuo to Kunming to Shanghai and many places in between. Along the way, she's attacked, all but kidnapped, and almost killed. It seems like each chapter takes on a new twist and definitely keeps the reader wanting more. I love how Lisa Brackmann mixes traditional China with the ultra-modern, sexy lifestyles of the nouveau riche. I also learned more about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and how this deadly trend has far-reaching consequences for people across the globe. I'm hoping for a third book in this series because I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of Ellie McEnroe.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway and I'm so glad I did. Usually I don't go for this genre, but it intrigued me based on the title because I was born in the year of the rat, just like the main character. I have lived abroad in Asia and love to travel, so I gave it a shot. This is a great thriller/mystery/road book. I was captivated the whole time; Brackmann really does a good job with the fast pace and interesting characters, not to mention all the great twists and turns. I haven't yet been to C I won this in a Goodreads giveaway and I'm so glad I did. Usually I don't go for this genre, but it intrigued me based on the title because I was born in the year of the rat, just like the main character. I have lived abroad in Asia and love to travel, so I gave it a shot. This is a great thriller/mystery/road book. I was captivated the whole time; Brackmann really does a good job with the fast pace and interesting characters, not to mention all the great twists and turns. I haven't yet been to China, so I loved all the details about the different places in this book. Brackmann also handles the large cast of characters very well and keeps them all relevant. When I initially started reading this, I wasn't quite sure what it would be about, but I was pleasantly surprised as the mystery developed and the issues involved were very relevant to current issues. I won't say too much because I don't want to spoil it for anyone else. This is the first book I've read by Brackmann, and I was delighted to discover that she's written two others. I plan to read them in the near future.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Barbara ★

    First line of the story... Is it just me, or is this bullshit? Clearly this says it all. This entire book was bullshit and a complete waste of my time. Ellie McEnroe, the main character, is a tortured soul who is completely unmotivated which causes the story to meander along without any direction at all. The story is repetitive and boring. Ellie does nothing except drink beer and pop percocets like tic-tacs. Definitely not a heroine that this reader can get behind. I spent the whole book waiting f First line of the story... Is it just me, or is this bullshit? Clearly this says it all. This entire book was bullshit and a complete waste of my time. Ellie McEnroe, the main character, is a tortured soul who is completely unmotivated which causes the story to meander along without any direction at all. The story is repetitive and boring. Ellie does nothing except drink beer and pop percocets like tic-tacs. Definitely not a heroine that this reader can get behind. I spent the whole book waiting for something to happen or something to be resolved. But alas nothing is. The author finally tells us in the last chapter what actually happened in the book but honestly the story itself should tell us what happens not the author. Not a series I'd continue or an author I'd read again. Honestly I picked it up because I needed a book with a rat on the cover. Next time I'll read the premise and the reviews to see if a challenge book is going to be a huge waste of time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    S. L.

    Ellie McEnroe is one strong women. She has a past she would rather forget, which is exactly why she chooses to help her friend find his brother, Jason. Ellie takes us through the Chinese villages and countryside as she searches for Jason. She has the Chinese Secret service watching her every move and following her. Meanwhile, Jason leaves behind a series of bread crumbs that leads her from one place to another as the "vacation" quickly gets out of hand. This novel is very intriguing and knowled Ellie McEnroe is one strong women. She has a past she would rather forget, which is exactly why she chooses to help her friend find his brother, Jason. Ellie takes us through the Chinese villages and countryside as she searches for Jason. She has the Chinese Secret service watching her every move and following her. Meanwhile, Jason leaves behind a series of bread crumbs that leads her from one place to another as the "vacation" quickly gets out of hand. This novel is very intriguing and knowledgeable about the Chinese government and culture. Not only will you be entertained by every twist and turn of Ellie's little adventure, but you will be educated in the process.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Reading another story about Ellie was a joy for me. I enjoyed Year of the Tiger when I read it a few years ago, and Hour of the Rat does not disappoint. Expect twists. Expect violence and adventure. But, most of all, expect Brackmann's wonderful prose. Reading another story about Ellie was a joy for me. I enjoyed Year of the Tiger when I read it a few years ago, and Hour of the Rat does not disappoint. Expect twists. Expect violence and adventure. But, most of all, expect Brackmann's wonderful prose.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Bransford

    Such an amazing series! Already can't wait for the next installment. Such an amazing series! Already can't wait for the next installment.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Gray

    Ellie McEnroe can't ever seem to catch a break. She's an Iraq war vet with a permanent leg injury living in China, representing a talented, rising artist. She has made her home there, as we learned in the first book (which I highly recommend reading) and really just wants to chill and get on with her new life. When her eccentric mother comes to visit and starts a relationship with the next door neighbour, Ellie knows life is not going to become easier, and she's right. With suspicious Chinese au Ellie McEnroe can't ever seem to catch a break. She's an Iraq war vet with a permanent leg injury living in China, representing a talented, rising artist. She has made her home there, as we learned in the first book (which I highly recommend reading) and really just wants to chill and get on with her new life. When her eccentric mother comes to visit and starts a relationship with the next door neighbour, Ellie knows life is not going to become easier, and she's right. With suspicious Chinese authorities watching her every move, hoping she'll lead them to the reclusive artist, she wonders whether they are more interested in the artist or her, and will this lead to her deportation. I love the way Brackmann always weaves another, compelling sub-plot into her stories, in this case making it the very plausible reason to stay one step ahead of authorities as she ventures on a dangerous mission to track down the missing brother of a war vet friend. With everyone on her trail, from dark forces who may or may not be Chinese government officials to darker forces who will clearly stop at nothing to prevent her from uncovering a terrible environmental secret, Ellie is constantly in death-defying situations. Brackmann paints indelible images of Chinese cities and countryside in exquisite detail. She clearly knows it all intimately and it adds immeasurably to the story. Despite comments to the contrary from other reviewers, I find Ellie's swearing to be entirely consistent with who she is and what she endures. To eliminate it would be inauthentic.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    Oh goody - it's very nearly as good as Rock, Paper, Tiger. Ellie McEnroe is living in Beijing, representing the work of her artist friend Zhang Jianli, who is in hiding. Ellie's Jesus loving, sex loving mother is staying with her on an extended visit, and becoming attracted to their next door neighbor, a nice enough fellow with some interesting Chinese religio-medical habits like anal constriction and denting navel. Suddenly a couple of heavies from the domestic security forces show up demanding Oh goody - it's very nearly as good as Rock, Paper, Tiger. Ellie McEnroe is living in Beijing, representing the work of her artist friend Zhang Jianli, who is in hiding. Ellie's Jesus loving, sex loving mother is staying with her on an extended visit, and becoming attracted to their next door neighbor, a nice enough fellow with some interesting Chinese religio-medical habits like anal constriction and denting navel. Suddenly a couple of heavies from the domestic security forces show up demanding to know where Zhang is and Ellie can't tell them. She gets a Skype from her Army buddy Dog, a vet more seriously injured than she was, asking her to try to find his brother who has gone missing in China. The brother is bipolar and probably off his meds and the family is worried. Ellie wants to help Dog, and it seems like a good idea for her to be out of Beijing, so she, her mother and Andy the neighbor take off on a road trip. It turns out the brother is an environmentalist investigating GMO seed companies in China, and wanted by the FBI for eco-terrorism in the US. It gets complicated and a bit violent. I really like the character of Ellie - she is smart, tough and funny with a highly developed sense of irony and a fondness for four letter words. The plot takes her through some fascinating, off the beaten path parts of China and the descriptions are terrific. The whole GMO thing is fascinating in an awful way. And Ellie and a dog rescue each other.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heather Fineisen

    An Iraq War veteran, recovering from a leg injury is a new type of heroine really for a new era. I haven't seen many entries thus far that capture the current type of sleuth being born, from the loins of wars with drones and wifi coverage in remote places. And this story is about eco-terrorism and mutant seed creations. Brackmann is knowledgeble about the regions in China, the politics, the food, and is strongest in her descriptions. Ellie, our veteran, has a potty mouth that sometimes reminds m An Iraq War veteran, recovering from a leg injury is a new type of heroine really for a new era. I haven't seen many entries thus far that capture the current type of sleuth being born, from the loins of wars with drones and wifi coverage in remote places. And this story is about eco-terrorism and mutant seed creations. Brackmann is knowledgeble about the regions in China, the politics, the food, and is strongest in her descriptions. Ellie, our veteran, has a potty mouth that sometimes reminds me of that old adage of using the f-word when one doesn't have the vocabulary to express oneself. Brackman obviously does have the vocabulary, but peppering Ellie's speech with this one term seems at odds with some of the lush descriptions. That said, this is a new sleuth and there is a lot of slang that dates this reader. All said, this is worth a look, and enough of pull to look at the other entries in this series by Brackmann. And its f-ing great to a have a female Iraq War Veteran as the main character, f-ing great!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Olga

    I really enjoyed this book. I'm not typically a proponent of colloquial writing but this one read naturally, as though someone was really telling me a story. What's more, the someone telling me the story didn't expect me to remember every detail and reminded me of the ones I'd forgotten when they slipped my mind. The use of Chinese was not overbearing, reminded the reader that the story is taking place in China with am American, somewhat new to Chinese, and the Chinese with the, naturally, under I really enjoyed this book. I'm not typically a proponent of colloquial writing but this one read naturally, as though someone was really telling me a story. What's more, the someone telling me the story didn't expect me to remember every detail and reminded me of the ones I'd forgotten when they slipped my mind. The use of Chinese was not overbearing, reminded the reader that the story is taking place in China with am American, somewhat new to Chinese, and the Chinese with the, naturally, underdeveloped English skills. The story, just a short time out of a life, not quite a completed chapter in that life, is compelling and believable (perhaps because as the many events happen they seem organic at the time). The main character, and the few other well developed characters, are three dimensional. Overall, I would highly recommend it to others.

  28. 5 out of 5

    J.D.

    The protagonist is engaging, the local color and descriptions of life in modern China are fascinating, and the writing is top-notch. Problem is, the story doesn't finish. The book just ends, and not even on a cliffhanger. Nothing is resolved, the situation is still as perilous as it ever was, and the reader, one supposes, just has to buy the next volume to find out what happens next. This always annoys me. I don't mind series, and I don't even mind story arcs that go from book to book, but I jus The protagonist is engaging, the local color and descriptions of life in modern China are fascinating, and the writing is top-notch. Problem is, the story doesn't finish. The book just ends, and not even on a cliffhanger. Nothing is resolved, the situation is still as perilous as it ever was, and the reader, one supposes, just has to buy the next volume to find out what happens next. This always annoys me. I don't mind series, and I don't even mind story arcs that go from book to book, but I just feel like each book should have at least one self-contained story. Even the rambling Song of Ice and Fire series ends each book on a high note or turning point. This just feels like the author wrote till she hit the deadline and quit. YMMV, of course, and it that sort of thing doesn't bother you, then this is a fine read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lori Paximadis

    I really enjoyed this book and the first one in the series, Rock Paper Tiger. 4.5 for each of them. They're thrillers set in China revolving around the misadventures of an American Iraq War vet trying to put her life back together. Yes, you have to suspend some disbelief re: coincidences, characters with nine lives, and all that, but that's par for the genre. The descriptions of the country and day-to-day life there really captured my imagination; because I am only vaguely familiar with China fr I really enjoyed this book and the first one in the series, Rock Paper Tiger. 4.5 for each of them. They're thrillers set in China revolving around the misadventures of an American Iraq War vet trying to put her life back together. Yes, you have to suspend some disbelief re: coincidences, characters with nine lives, and all that, but that's par for the genre. The descriptions of the country and day-to-day life there really captured my imagination; because I am only vaguely familiar with China from reading about it in some of the books I work on, I kept finding myself consulting Google Maps and reading a bit about the places she talks about to get a real feel for it. I'm looking forward to picking up her next book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Even though Iraq War veteran Ellie McEnroe knows little about art, she manages to make a living in Beijing representing the work of controversial artist Zhang Jianli. When an old Army buddy, Dog Turner, pleads with her to find his unstable brother Jason who has disappeared somewhere in China, Ellie agrees to help. Her search takes her to a number of locations that the author certainly made me want to visit. This is by far the best part of the book. Unfortunately, I did not find Ellie a likeable Even though Iraq War veteran Ellie McEnroe knows little about art, she manages to make a living in Beijing representing the work of controversial artist Zhang Jianli. When an old Army buddy, Dog Turner, pleads with her to find his unstable brother Jason who has disappeared somewhere in China, Ellie agrees to help. Her search takes her to a number of locations that the author certainly made me want to visit. This is by far the best part of the book. Unfortunately, I did not find Ellie a likeable character. At one point she calls herself “trailer trash” and that is often how she speaks and behaves. She is also a drug addict and, as a first person narrator, she is quite objectionable.

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