Press for HOUR OF THE RAT

From Time Out Beijing (interview and review)

Ellie’s observations, relayed through the first person, are droll but never glib. No one is spared in Rock Paper Tiger, from the ‘Prada babe’ art dealer to the Beijing train station, which is ‘big and brown and flanked at intervals by towers topped with pagoda roofs – another attempt to put Chinese lipstick on an architectural pig.’ (The Beijing West station is ‘the same thing but on steroids and gray… like some kind of Stalinist wet dream’).

The United States also gets a beating. When we first meet Ellie she has flashbacks to Abu Ghraib-style prisoner abuse, in which she is implicated with her ex-husband. But Brackmann is more concerned with painting nuanced pictures than in pointing fingers. ‘I was interested in this idea of a young woman who joins the National Guard because she wants to get health insurance and doesn’t expect she is going to end up in a war zone,’ says Brackmann. The book was inspired in part by Lynndie England, the soldier from a trailer park who was convicted, alongside ten others, of the Abu Ghraib torture in 2005.

Evangelical Christianity also features through Ellie’s mother, a single parent who somehow always ends up with a jerk boyfriend. She also sends her daughter (who lost faith in Jesus in Iraq) emails that preach Christian parables; they are sourced from real mass emails sent out to Brackmann’s own (non-religious) family. But, again, judgement is withheld. ‘Her mum is a figure of fun in a way but I don’t want her to be totally laughable and totally ridiculous,’ says Brackmann. Ellie’s mother may be faintly misguided, and a little pushy, but she has a large heart.

In Rock Paper Tiger and Hour of the Rat Brackmann has taken on weighty subjects with a light touch: Iraq, Xinjiang, fervent religiosity, torture and eco-terrorism, to name a few. So what’s next? ‘I really want to get into the whole art thing [in China]; the rich, horrible, privileged class,’ says Brackmann with relish. ‘Lifestyles of the rich and disgusting!’ No doubt Ellie will have a lot to say about that, too.

From The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Lisa Brackmann’s new novel, Hour of the Rat promises to be a very good international crime thriller, and it lives up to that billing very well. The second in what looks to be a very important series, the book brings back Ellie Cooper from her electrifying debut, 2010’s Rock Paper Tiger – and what an encore performance it is…

…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 reader’s 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 writer’s tools effortlessly and flawlessly. She has told a story that both entertains and educates, and the plot, with its many facets and many characters, is still easy to follow and get hooked on. But she doesn’t stop there…

…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…

…It’s retroflective in places, and wildly entertaining in others. Just like life. Brackmann has pulled of a wonderful piece of work that will be quoted, cited and reread for all of its nuances for a long time to come…
——The Dirty Lowdown