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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Manhunt for a Chinese woman

THE FINDER by Colin Harrison. New York: Sarah Chrichton Books, 2008, 325 pp., $25 (cloth)

In this tightly woven page-turner by Colin Harrison, Jin Li, a young Chinese woman with an advanced university degree, engages in industrial espionage, setting off a series of violent events.

Jin Li's official job, as a graveyard shift supervisor for a Manhattan-based janitorial service, is to collect office waste to be shredded and incinerated. But her real function is to sift through the company's discarded faxes, reports and other confidential documents for nuggets of potentially useful inside information, which she relays to her brother, a devious Shanghai financier who wreaks havoc by causing a pharmaceutical company's shares to plummet.

Two of Jin Li's female Mexican coworkers are brutally murdered. Realizing she was the killer's real target, the Chinese woman flees for her life, initiating a tense game of hide-and-seek.

The cast of characters in "The Finder" — which more accurately might have been titled "The Searchers" — includes the police detective investigating the murder of the Mexicans; Jin Li's brother, who flies in from Shanghai to rescue his sister; Bill Martz, a ruthless financier determined to recover millions in losses caused by the leaks; and Victor Rigetti, a borderline psychopath and coldblooded killer for hire.

Ray Blake, Jin Li's former boyfriend, is also looking for her. A former N.Y. fireman who narrowly survived the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, Blake is gallant and courageous, but a flop as an amateur detective. Fortunately, Ray's father Pete, now terminally ill with cancer, happens to be a retired NYPD detective. When not sedated, Pete revives his considerable investigative skills to assist his son.

Harrison orchestrates these half dozen separate manhunts — by the NYPD cop, American financier, Chinese businessman, hoodlum, 9/11 hero and old bedridden detective — all of which are trying to track down Jin Li.

This work has been criticized in some quarters for its adversarial treatment of Chinese, such as this passage in which Jin Li's brother soliloquizes: "It seems certain that China and the United States, which is weakening every day, will someday be at war, and like many of his fellow investors, he looks forward to this moment in global history."

But "The Finder" mostly works because Harrison serves up such an entertaining cast of eccentric characters, with white-collar hoodlum Martz and blue-collar tough Rigetti ultimately stealing the show. More than harping on the yellow peril, it's the book's stronger-than-garlic aura of extreme and colorful New Yorkers that sustains the narrative.

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