Soho Crime, 2015, 368 pages
Ellie McEnroe is an Iraq War vet living in Beijing, where she represents the work of cutting-edge Chinese political artists. She has one bum leg, a taste for dumplings and beer, and a sweet-tempered rescue mutt for a roommate. She also has Chinese Domestic Security on her tail and a dwindling number of Percocets to get her through her bad days.
And she's about to have some bad days. The immensely powerful - and occasionally homicidal - Shanghai billionaire Sidney Cao has asked Ellie to investigate his son's suspicious new American business partner. Ellie knows she can't refuse and is grudgingly swept up into the elite social circles of Sidney's three children: debauched Guwei, rebellious Meimei, and social climber Tiantian.
When a waitress is murdered at one of Tiantian's parties, the last thing Ellie wants is to get sucked into a huge scandal involving China's rich and powerful. But Ellie quickly becomes the most convenient suspect. She realizes she'll have to figure out who really did it - and even that might not be enough to save herself.
This is the third book in a series about Ellie McEnroe, a former National Guard medic who got fucked up in Iraq, went to China with her ex-Army husband in one of those seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time moves, and stayed because it was easier than going back home.
Like many ongoing series, there is pleasure in reading about the next chapter in the lives of familiar characters, but also a sameness as the author starts stretching for new ideas.
In the last book, Ellie was "befriended" by an eccentric billionaire named Sidney Cao. Friendships with billionaires always come with strings attached, so when Sidney asks Ellie to do something for her, she is not in a position to refuse.
What he wants her to do is "check up on" his eldest son and evaluate the people he's hanging around with. Having no idea how she's supposed to do this or why Sidney thinks she's qualified, Ellie nonetheless does her best. This gets her mixed up with all three of Sidney's children, who are exactly what you'd expect spoiled children of nouveau rich Chinese billionaires to be. After one of the parties she attends with all these one-percenters, a girl turns up dead, and since no one is going to accuse a bunch of rich kids, Ellie becomes a suspect.
Trying to figure out what actually happened, maybe even get some justice for the dead girls (yup, the first body is followed by a second), while not getting swatted by the rich and powerful or the Chinese security services takes Ellie on another harrowing crawl through modern China. She is helped by her kinda sorta maybe boyfriend, "Creepy John," from the last book, who works for some branch of the Chinese government and may or may not be on her side, and aided with comic relief from her evangelical Christian mother, who came to China in the last book and stayed after hooking up with an evangelical Chinese boyfriend.
Lisa Brackmann has written three engaging books about Ellie McEnroe now. Her descriptions of China remain believable and interesting (to the degree I can judge, never having been to China), and she is very strong in characterization and plotting. I'll keep reading books about Ellie, but I think it will be hard to keep them fresh and her author page suggests that she may be done with our poor PTSD-disabled vet for a while. Probably a good decision, but I do recommend the series highly.
Also by Lisa Brackmann: My reviews of Rock Paper Tiger and Hour of the Rat.
My complete list of book reviews.