Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Neon Dragon, by John F. Dobbyn

Neon Dragon
Evidently John F. Dobbyn has been writing short stories for a while now, and it appears he's put in the practice to make his debut novel nearly perfect. Neon Dragon was a very quick, amusing read.
Michael Knight is a lawyer in Boston, working on litigation for a major law firm. He started out his legal career working for the DA's office, and is still a bit tentative about this area of the law. After submitting a series of motions to the judge in his current case (and getting them denied), the judge calls him into his chambers and asks him to represent his son in a criminal case. The son has been accused of the murder of a prominent elderly gentleman from the Chinese community.

The judge has a bit of an ulterior motive for hiring Michael. The senior partner in the firm where he works, Lex Devlin, used to be one of the top defense lawyers in the area, and Judge Bradley knows he'll get that expertise as part of the package, even though Devlin no longer does criminal work, due to a scandal surrounding a case ten years ago that broke his spirit.

Knight's investigation quickly picks up multiple threads, as he not only tries to understand who might be trying to frame the judge's son for the murder, but dig out the truth surrounding Devlin's last case.

So, are Chinese triads and tongs just the "in" thing this year in mysteries? The last Harry Bosch book I read and reviewed here was about the tongs, as well. Knight runs afoul of the thugs in Chinatown pretty quickly, and they prove willing to do serious violence to him or anyone who helps him try to find the real killer. Dobbyn does manage to avoid one of the issues I had with the Harry Bosch solving a mystery in China, without speaking a word of the language, by pairing Knight with his friend Harry Wong, a bilingual friend from college.

One of the things that I found a this book was that Michael always seems to have an old friend who can get him the next piece of information he needs. In a first novel, it's a delicate business to create a history for your protagonist, and Dobbyn's work is just a tiny bit "off" in this area. I just found it all a little too convenient. Maybe the background for this lies in his short stories.

Another things that seemed odd to me was that the level of violence in the book directed at Michael and his friends ratcheted up extremely rapidly, but then just disappeared when he got really close to solving the case. The flow of the novel seemed like riding a bicycle up to the top of a steep grade, then coasting rapidly down the other side. All of the pieces, which seemed quite jumbled and incomprehensible through the first two thirds of the novel, just fell into place in a final Perry Mason courtroom scene mere pages from the end.

All in all a good debut novel, and we may be catching a glimpse of the next Grisham here, as Dobbyn polishes his craft.

Share This

No comments: