Reviewed by Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962–64)
You might ask why anyone would want to steal tea so badly they would commit violence, lies, deception and danger! This story is based in modern day London but harkens back to early Chinese history intertwined with British history in China.
The clever character development involves an American, Tom, invited by his maternal Chinese grandfather he has never met, a Rosemary, who joins him in his pursuit as a way of making her life more exciting, her London based gang boss brother, Ow, whom she adores. And a precious brick of exceptional tea valued in the millions! One might say the brick of tea is the main character! The Chinese regarded Robert Fortune as a criminal, as he often stole plants, seeds and tea to bring them back to England. There he was regarded as a “celebrated plant hunter,” but in China, he was a criminal, “a black hearted man.”
I found the gang boss brother the most intriguing character as contradictions in his life are revealed. He breaks the stereotype of a violent gang leader as we learn more about him and his relationship with others including the love he and his sister have for one another. Both grew up in a rough neighborhood and home but he chooses the street and she chooses education and legitimate work. Until now!
The intentions of the grandfather and the masterminding he does to draw his unsuspecting grandson into the web of intrigue in the Chinese culture, both ancient and modern, is confusing but interesting, no less due to the relationship he has or does not have with his daughter in America, Tom’s mother.
The book is filled with surprises that build suspense and maintain interest as the story winds its way along the streets of London with cloak and dagger adventure around every corner. As one character puts it, “Fortune’s Brick would have been a gift from the gods, the lifeline that could save her family’s business.” Its value raises the stakes to find it, purchase in a private auction and save one’s culture, history or the farm! Or what else could happen?
Sue Hoyt Aiken (Ethiopia 1962–64) enjoys both tea and London, and especially mysteries that involve Great Britain! Currently she lives in Northern California and looks forward to another trip to England and its beautiful countryside. And perhaps a cup of tea!