A lot of story
*This is a TBRChallenge review, there will be spoilers, I don't spoil everything but enough, because I treat these reviews as a bookclub discussion.
Y'all, how am I picking these insane books for the TBRChallenge every year??? What kind of a gold mine tbr am I sitting on?!? Anyway, this review is a couple days late because this turned out to be 570ish pages of an HBO limited series. I feel wrung-out but less because of emotional wreckage, as I was with The Lotus Palace, and more just my god that was A STORY. I'm not sure how I'm going to talk about this so, long story short, twist and turns spy romance about possible stolen Chinese bronze statues that is a sticky web with multiple parts made by multiple spiders as the People's Republic of China is newish Communists with some liking that and others not and, of course, the United States wanting to stick their noses in there. A museum curator gets thrown in the mix with only a former CIA spy to help her out. Mind games of is it real or not. If you liked something along the lines of HBO's Chernobyl but with Romance!, and want to take reading slower and get immersed in the world, find this and pick it up.
Grab a glass of wine, thank your lucky stars you're not in a book club with me, and let the rambling begin...
"Is there really a possibility that relations between the U.S. and China could be destroyed over the Qin bronzes?"
The story opens with Catlin as he's presented with half an ancient Chinese coin. He's a retired CIA spy who deep undercover went by the name Jacques-Pierre Rousseau. Some think Rousseau is dead and others think he's now involved in a Pacific Rim Foundation. Catlin, real name Jacob MacArthur, is not happy to have the half a coin presented to him. It's a debt he owes for when his life was saved when the woman he thought he loved and loved him almost murdered him on the orders from Tran, a pimp and smuggler in IndoChina. Chen Yi is the one calling in the favor from Catlin, and Comrade Minister of Archaeology, Province of Shaanxi, People's Republic of China. It's come to the attention of the new government that rumors of a charioteer, chariot, and horses inlaid in gold and silver from the, supposed to be reburied, ancient Emperor Qin's grave are going to be up for sale in America.
Look, this was published in 1986, so I'll forgive people if they're not up on their history of the political atmosphere at this time (I had to go brush up myself after I read about 30% of this). Suffice to say that not all Chinese are a fan of the Western capitalism or communism turn their country is taking, so we have a pit of Mao purists and Deng progressives, with Chinese Nationalists from Taiwan and the United States wanting to keep an eye on communist China thrown into the overreaching arch of the story. (in case it needs to be said, this is Fiction, so yeah, grain of salt) It all boils down to does the bronze charioteer exist to be sold, who is selling it, and what is the network that got it to the United States. Chen ropes Catlin into this because of his undercover persona and familiarity of the culture. Chen wants Catlin to be a bodyguard for a Lindsay Danner.
There were parts of her childhood she had forgotten how to remember. There were other parts that she remembered only in dreams and woke up screaming and wondering why.
Lindsay was born in China and raised there until twelve years old by Christian missionary parents. With the recent death of her mother (her father already died years ago) her nightmares of an incident when she was seven are keeping her up at night. She thinks her uncle was killed but she can't really remember anything. As the curator of Ancient Chinese Bronzes for the Museum of the Asias and an uncanny ability to tell real bronze from frauds, her reputation is spotless. It's obvious to the reader that Chen is maneuvering things to have Lindsay picked, by the FBI that is allowing and working with Chen to conduct a mission to find out if there are Qin bronzes for sale and if they're real, but the reader doesn't know why, just that he wants Catlin to prepare and protect her for the quagmire she's about to get involved with. Catlin meets Lindsay and instantly thinks she's too innocent to get involved in having to do what needs to be done for the mission and their connection definitely tells romance readers something could flare up between the two. Lindsay sees the mission as a way to keep relations between China and the US good, so even though she's going to have to ruin her reputation as an honest bronze dealer, pretending to fall so in love with Catlin that she'll buy smuggled bronzes for him, thus getting the possible smugglers to contact them so everyone can find out the truth of who and how of a possible smuggling operation.
"If she is hurt, most honorable Chen Yi, you will wish that you had not gone fishing with a dragon."
Just know, my quick simplifying of political webs and relations is actually covered in the 500 pages of intricate character relations and building that slowly gets covered and revealed with new players and layers. Catlin does his best to prepare Lindsay for the ramifications of ruining her reputation while trying to keep his eyes on all the players, moves, and getting pulled in with his feelings for Lindsay. The FBI is represented by the head of counterintelligence, Stone, and his Special Agent O'Donnell. They have their own long scenes, especially towards the end where they are trying to keep shadows on Catlin and Lindsay as they are being driven to the ultimate moment to discover if the bronzes are real and who the players are. It's a scene that did heighten the stress and danger but also made me want to skim read. Which is what I battled sometimes in this book. Newer published contemporary, vast majority, just doesn't have this slower meticulous overreaching plot. At times I was celebrating the completeness, adding in and at others I felt like I was warring against the newer genre tone and beat I have been trained in as I thought the story had some bloat. This is a story you're going to have to want to invest in and take slower, it just is. I enjoyed the hell out of that at times and others, yeah, bloat.
From now on she would know that she could touch Catlin all the time-and believe him none of the time.
Lindsay and Catlin had full backstories but as they're more doled out and almost to the background, sometimes chapters later my mind would be like, oh yeah, they've both been married and divorced, Catlin was involved in the fall of Saigon, and more front and center, Lindsay's incomplete memory of how her uncle died. It's more slow reveals, Lindsay's incomplete memory is one of the strands to the web and Catlin's background, namely his emotional Baggage (and you didn't think I was going to get the TBRChallenge monthly theme in there, shame on you), plays into the romance aspect as they spend all the time together and are slowly falling for each other for real as they pretend. I loved the touching these two had between each other and their bedroom scenes. So much now seems to be slamming to get to the orgasm, the destination, the touching between these two was all about the journey. To Catch a Raven by Beverly Jenkins is a newer publication that I enjoyed the intimacy between leads but because the characters are more slowly developed throughout the story, I would say these two don't start off with intimacy but it builds and their last sex scene was incredibly hot because of this building (thank you for that previous work because otherwise the snap crotch thingy Lindsay was wearing and the why did you have to remind me mustache of Catlin would have been a personal buzzkill).
"Christ, Lindsay," he grated, "we'll burn down the night."
Around 70% Lindsay remembers the full story of her nightmares and more is learned about some characters, I feel like romance genre readers will have an idea about what's really going on with one of them. The ending brings everyone together, Chen, FBI, a father figure of Lindsay's, and the truth of the bronzes. It's a scene that, after a dangerous decision Lindsay comes to, kind of ends somewhat air out of balloon feeling as Catlin is too good at his job. Catlin then gives into his emotional baggage (ha, again!) and we get a “How could this possibly end in a HEA???” Just kidding, even with only 5% romance readers can't be fooled and I actually loved how this ended.
As Lindsay looked down at the small, ancient coin, her breath caught and she went very still. The halves had been welded together, revealing the complete outline of a flying bird.
But yeah, I'm wrung-out from all the layers, players, and just general full story, I'm stuffed! The political intrigue, who's lying and maneuvering, the romance, trying to discern the truth behind Catlin's motivations and feelings, and just general tv limited series feel of it all. If you're in for a 1986 published fictional book about political relations with China, told in cover with spies and ancient bronzes in a romance genre world, this book was an experience.
*Did Sam Wang ever get his own story??? I Need it.