In this truly post-modern mash-up of Hitchcock, National Geographic, Reds, G.I. Jane, John le Carré, and Tron, Brackman covers more ground in one thriller than some writers do in a career. Recommended.


Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel is as slick and smart as an alley cat. As her heroine Ellie dashes across China, issues as diverse as the Iraq war, evangelical Christianity, China’s art bubble, and the weird and wacky world of virtual games, are all thrown into the mix. The result is a wildly original read. Brackmann manages the difficult task of touching on recent and raw controversies–Ellie is involved, for example, in Abu Ghraib-inspired prisoner abuse–without ever being pat or patronizing. Even more remarkable is her enfant terrible protagonist: 26-year-old Ellie is tough, snarky and immensely likeable. Through her voice Brackmann never falls into the trite and tired trap of so many foreigners who write about an ‘exotic’ China. Beijing in Rock Paper Tiger is as it is in real life: fast, furious, often ugly, and with a Starbucks sitting on every corner.

Brackmann’s novel is a witty comment on Beijing’s youth culture; it also, in an innovative twist, submerges the reader into a virtual world. In order to work out the puzzle of her pursuit Ellie must join the ‘Great Community’, a fellowship in the popular online game The Sword of Ill Repute. In one brilliant scene, reality and the online world merge, as Ellie stumbles across a gaming ‘gold farm’:geeks who get paid to move their client’s avatars up the game’s ladder.

If there is one drawback to Rock Paper Tiger, it’s the lack of a real conclusion to the racy plot. But, then again, this is part of the novel’s charm. And who ever said that anything in urban China can be tied up nicely?”


Brackmann’s debut deftly mixes modern China, the Iraq War, and online gaming, an unusual combination that manages to work. Iraq vet Ellie Cooper is making a new life for herself in Beijing, living with friends in an unsanctioned artists’ village on the outskirts of town. A chance encounter with an Uighur (Turkish ethnics living in China) sets in motion a baffling series of events in which Ellie is pursued by American and Chinese agents. Not sure whom to trust or where to turn, Ellie finds that she is able to communicate safely using a relatively unmonitored online role-playing game. Ellie’s story of her time in Iraq and the reasons she initially came to China are revealed in chapter-long flashbacks interspersed with the main story; taken together, the two narrated strands constitute a fast-paced and engaging story as both plots are full of mystery and suspense. Although the ending falls a bit flat, the tension up to that point is sustained superbly, and the characters are full-bodied and engaging. Good reading for anyone interested in the international crime novel.
— Jessica Moyer

From Library Journal:

A gritty and intriguing tale of terror that draws in the reader with each page; Brackmann is a new writer to watch.