Sign of the Rat – Illustrated Action Thriller
As a veteran adventurer who loves Asian destinations, my reading selections are usually travel diaries – with the occasional novel thrown into my bag for a fast-paced escape. Imagine my surprise when I found a book that brought to life my favorite places in Hanoi and kept me hooked on an exciting and unpredictable story. Sign of the Rat is an illustrated action thriller, with more than 60 photo-realistic drawings. The visuals looked especially stunning on an iPad (and it seems you could also download the book with Kindle for PC or enjoy a traditional paper copy). This fast-paced novel begins in Manhattan, then goes to Paris, but the majority of the story centers on North Vietnam. The main character is a thirteen-year-old archaeologist who lives up to his nickname – “Trouble.” I am not a fan of children’s books – yet the search behind Trouble’s adventures and the vivid writing pulled me into the story for two days – and I postponed meetings just to find out “what happens next.”
The Vietnam scenes begin on the streets of Hanoi, in the tropical humidity of downtown. The prose captures the author’s experiences, a chaos of energy, with motorbikes, cyclos and trucks all jockeying for the next open space in traffic. Teens on scooters wearing the latest designer shades contrast with traditional street vendors in cone hats and linen pajamas. The smells of fresh greens and bun cha awakened my appetite and reminded me of the vendors who use little electric fans to spread the enticing smells of their grilled meats through the crowds. I particularly enjoyed the transition from modern life to the Old Quarter -
“They entered Old Town near a communal home with walls built around a huge tree. The strangler fig’s leafy canopy shaded the building’s roof and several more homes. The tree appeared to melt on walls like thick syrup. Strangler fig branches dropped aerial roots that over decades became thick trunks. These supplemental growths helped feed and support branches longer than a big rig tractor-trailer truck. At ground level, the tree became an impromptu Buddhist temple. Burning incense sticks jutted from knobs and tiny gift flasks of rice whiskey peppered crevices.
They walked through the tree and found Hanoi’s Old Quarter to be a tangle of curving lanes, with few street signs. There was barely enough room to squeeze between tides of people. Vendors hawked rolls of cloth and plastic bags of vivid dyes, displaying more wares in the street than in their narrow shopfront. . . “
Beyond the shopkeepers, the main character Trouble and his friend Chiaro hide from their pursuers, with a tense visit to a water puppet performance. The smoke of firecrackers and carved wooden dragons in a pageant is a dazzling event, followed by a chase scene with a runaway vehicle.
Lovers of Asian cuisine will enjoy the descriptions of memorable food, from humble street dumplings to sophisticated dishes. If you have ventured across Long Bien Bridge to the small dining villas and restaurants devoted to one of Vietnam’s rare specialties, then you will really enjoy the visit to a unique establishment, where dinner is caught in front of your eyes. A real surprise awaits you when you see what can be done when creatively using a particular creature for an elaborate feast. Other chapters bring alive the fusion cuisine of Hoi An, where Japanese and French influences impact delicate flavors. As a lover of traditional food, my favorite dish is cau lau, delicious pork slices in a rich broth served over hot noodles (especially with extra chili sauce and Thai basil).
Tense action and exotic clues lead to meaningful encounters in Halong Bay. Mini-islands rise from the water like craggy eggs. The evocative scenes match my impressions of junk tours, when boats pause at the shoreline of these limestone karsts. The author shares a thrilling ride past emerald green islets, and an authentic interaction at a floating village, where the characters buy provisions before racing to their final destination. I don’t want to spoil your fun by revealing the ending, but it involves a transformation that will haunt you for a very long time. Sign of the Rat is a rare feat of storytelling. This thriller keeps you guessing about what will happen next while giving a true glimpse of Vietnam, as a colorful modern country that is alive with unique experiences.
There are more special features and interactive content about this illustrated action thriller at www.SiliconValleyNovel.com. I got permission from the publisher to upload this image of the book cover. The copyright belongs to Silicon Valley Novel, not me.
Published on 8/16/10