Select one of the keywords
Chinese Checkers    by Carol Doumani order for
Chinese Checkers
by Carol Doumani
Order:  USA  Can
Wave, 1996 (1996)
Hardcover, Audio
* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

It is always a treat to discover an unusual mystery such as Doumani's Chinese Checkers. At first it seems almost schizophrenic, since it takes place in 1986 and is set both in modern day Los Angeles and rural China. Tiannanmen Square and the subsequent loosening of the Communist yoke had not yet occurred in China, so the two worlds could not be more apart.

The connection between them is young dental student Karen Matthews and her insurance agent husband Peter. As the book opens, Karen and Peter are at a wedding of an old girlfriend of Peter's who is now a well-known actress. When the groom fails to appear, Peter leaves the congregation for a minute. As time passes with still no groom, Karen gets restless and decides to go to the restroom. To her horror she overhears Peter and the old girlfriend in a stall having an loud argument. It is soon clear that their relationship has not ended and they are in the midst of an affair.

Of course, Karen is heartbroken, but she is still willing to be understanding when Peter tries to explain. However, before they have a chance to repair their relationship, Peter leaves suddenly on a business trip without getting to talk to Karen or explain why he is going. Peter has traveled frequently in the past for work, but this time he is in Hong Kong and Karen is not able to reach him. Then the missing groom turns up dead and Peter is a prime suspect. So she and her friend Lily decide to go to Hong Kong to find him. It soon turns out that Peter has been living a secret life, working undercover for the CIA and he has been sent to Fuchow province in mainland China to find the inventor of a mysterious electronic device. Of course, Karen and Lily immediately decide to follow him there.

If all of this seems far-fetched it is. In addition, Karen and Lily are annoyingly naive and foolhardy in entering China at that time without speaking Chinese, having no local contacts and not even a cell phone. Still it's an engrossing story with many exciting adventures. Both East and West are eager to obtain this magic instrument which will be worth a fortune and much power to whoever gets it first. Along the way, Karen and Lily encounter many interesting people. Doumani does an excellent job of creating memorable characters and also making the reader sense the very foreign Chinese rural setting. She also has a good turn of phrase. One poor middle-aged Chinese woman has the 'diary of a hard life written on her face'. And a place is 'so quiet you could hear a diphthong drop'.

All in all, although the story is not that believable, its execution is skillfully handled and readers will want to keep turning pages until they find out how Karen and Lily survive in China and whether they will ever find and rescue Peter.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Mystery books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews