STORYLINE: Fa-Ling visits China with a group of Canadian couples who are going to complete the adoption process and meet their children. Fa-Ling has unresolved issues and so visits the orphanage that she and her sister called home. She unwittingly gets involved in a kidnapping and forms an alliance with a police officer who is investigating several murders and chasing corrupt agents of the state.
Fa-Ling: A young Canadian woman of Chinese origin, who visits China to see the place of her birth and close a chapter of her life. During her time in a Chinese orphanage, she was sexually abused by a worker. She makes her way to the orphanage to try to slay past demons.
Wang Ying-qu: An intelligent police officer who is called to Fa-Ling’s hotel, where a staged suicide is committed. He is attracted to Fa-ling and makes various excuses to see her again.
Cheng Minsheng: A rough-looking, yet smart officer, who with his partner follow a trail of state endorsed killings.
I LIKED: the pace of the story. Though it was challenging to keep the characters straight (there were five couples in the Canadian group) and follow various points of view, the plot unfolded in a sequential way that kept me reading. I liked the flow and simplicity of the language and, as always, I am enthralled by tales of Chinese culture. It was a little different from the books of this kind that I normally read. For one, it was set in modern day China and it was good to get a look at the activities of the police department and ministry of security.
I COULD HAVE LIVED WITHOUT: the many characters involved in the story. Each time I came across a Chinese character, I stopped for a second to be sure I knew whose point of view I was in. I also had to do the same for the Canadian couples. Of course, there were characters who stood out and those were easy to follow.
OVERALL COMMENTS: If stories to do with communist states, personal quests, and plain intrigue are your thing, then the First Excellence is for you. (I got this book on Kindle for 99 cents, but the story is way above that dollar value) There were two major external plots are work in this novel, one to do with the state clamping down on something (in this case a religious sect) they didn’t understand, but saw as a threat, and the other detailed the lengths to which someone will go when faced with ruin.
The plot was complex, but not hard to follow. The main characters each had their own quest and the plot lines threaded nicely together to form a cohesive whole. I thought the writer did a good job with closing out the kidnapping angle, which saved a member of the visiting group from spending time in prison. The state angle of course was more difficult. For each corrupt government official that is neutralized, there are many more to continue the job of oppressing those who choose not to follow the beaten path.
There was one thread that was left unresolved and made me wonder how many times we meet people who are connected to us, but we’re oblivious to that fact.
The title of the book puzzled me, but half way into the story, I saw the light. I’ll definitely read more from this writer and hope that having found her First Excellence, Fa-Ling will take me on other adventures.
The First Excellence was truly awesome!