Billed as the first in the Cape Weathers, PI series, Stealing the Dragon starts out with a bang. A cargo ship filled with knock-off designer jeans ends up wrecked, but the ship wasn’t just carrying clothing. It was also filled with illegal Chinese immigrants who had paid large amounts of money or had agreed to become slaves of “snakeheads” (the men who arranged for the illegal immigration to the United States) in order to get the chance to improve their lives.
Those illegal aliens aren’t the only secret, though. The ship carries a young woman aboard that is one of very few. Trained as an assassin, the woman slips through the ship and kills the snakehead’s group as well as the crew.
Looking at the plot, you’d expect to find something like this on one of those direct-to-DVD actioners starring Lorenzo Lamas. When I read the cover copy on it I dismissed it, thinking I’d probably saved myself some money, but that beautiful cover with the intriguing tattooed woman lurked — ninja-like — in the back of my mind. Then I saw a few generous reviews and thought, “Well, the author has a few friends.” Finally I looked at the price and thought the cost wasn’t so much and that cover is outta sight.
When I got the book and opened it to the first page, I became a believer. I didn’t put it down for almost a hundred pages. Granted, you’re not going to find anything new here. Cape Weathers is the obnoxious, laconic private eye that gets stamped out by a lot of writers, and interesting though she is, Sally Mei isn’t exactly original either.
So you’re getting what you expect, which isn’t a bad thing.
The thing that came as a complete surprise, especially in a first-time novelist, is just how easy the novel is to read. One of the major contributors to the pacing is the incredibly shortness of the chapters. They hurtle along filled with action or dialogue, both of which are easy to read. Stealing the Dragon is simply the fastest reading detective novel I’ve perused outside of Robert B. Parker. Come to think of it, I enjoy a lot of the same qualities about the Spenser novels that I liked in this one.