It started not long after the liberalization of the Chinese economy introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. Money started flowing out of the country, and much of it ended up in Canada and the USA. And as the years went by, the flow of funds accelerated with the explosive growth in China. A lot of that money — much of it dirty — has made its way into real estate in New York City, Vancouver, and California. But some has been in the form of direct investment in business. Chinese-English author, translator, and model Daniel Nieh‘s excellent thriller, Beijing Payback, tells the tale of one such business with its roots in dirty money from China as the entrepreneur who established it meets a violent end.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Victor Li’s father has been stabbed to death, upending his career at San Diego State University as a basketball player. The old man had built a chain of four Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, and Victor and his older sister, Juliana (Jules), expect to inherit them. But their father’s dodgy lawyer informs them that the restaurants were owned instead by a company in Beijing. As a rough-hewn character — likely a gangster — arrives to take charge of the restaurants, Victor grows suspicious about who had murdered his father. And when he comes across a long letter from the old man, he learns that everything he had believed about their life in China was wrong — and that his father’s last wish was for him to fly to Beijing to right a terrible wrong.
Beijing Payback by Daniel Nieh (2019) 301 pages ★★★★★
In Beijing Payback, Daniel Nieh has crafted a superior thriller informed by his personal experience of living and working in Beijing and his knowledge of Chinese history. It’s hard to believe that Nieh hasn’t personally encountered some of the underworld types he writes about: his story about dirty money from China reeks of credibility. And long passages about the Cultural Revolution are especially poignant and lift the story above the run-of-the-mill mystery.
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I’ve also reviewed the sequel to this novel: Take No Names (International intrigue and the world’s rarest gems).
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