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Book Review: The Chinese Banker

Gas is $10 per gallon. Protestors fill the streets. Riots erupt at grocery stores. This isn’t just a nightmare – it’s a new kind of warfare.

In his debut novel The Chinese Banker, Dustin Hill imagines what would happen if the U.S. economy went entirely off the rails. It ain’t pretty. I’m probably not politically or economically savvy enough to offer an in-depth analysis of the story, but I can say that it felt believable. Disturbingly believable.

Our hero is a columnist for The New York Examiner, Roger Cusak, who uncovers a foreign plot to debauch U.S. currency and throw the economy into a tailspin. Conspiracy theories and political thriller mashups aren’t anything new, but what sets Hill apart from many of his fellows is that he manages to keep his feet on the ground. The events described in The Chinese Banker may be fictional, but they could (conceivably) happen. You won’t find any shootouts, high-speed chases, or superhuman exploits – the conflict here is one of ideas.

And cash. Lots of cash.

Hill’s writing isn’t flawless, but it’s good, especially in the dialogue between characters. Many chapters take the form of news articles or opinion pieces – Hill himself is a journalist, which certainly doesn’t hurt – and for the most part, I enjoyed this approach. The problem is that it dominates the entire novel. Cusak’s journalistic “voice” is omnipresent, even when he’s telling us about something as mundane as having a drink at a bar. And that starts to get old after awhile.

This issue aside, the story is engaging and so are the characters (most of them, anyway). Things are surprisingly tame as far as objectionable content goes – there’s some language and brief sexual material, and that’s pretty much it. If you’re looking for a solid political thriller with some interesting and provocative ideas, I’d recommend you give this one a look.

On the Bookshelf XI

The Chinese Banker by Dustin Hill
A novel of an America ravaged by a Chinese-induced financial crisis. The publisher contacted me last week with a review request, and since conspiracy theories never fail to intrigue me, I figured, Why the heck not? I guess we’ll see if the book is worth its salt.
The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs
“So the books are waiting. Of this you may be confident: they’ll be ready when the whim strikes you.” Has anybody else read this book? The title alone was enough to grab my attention. I like reading about reading, and Jacobs apparently enjoys writing about reading, so it’s a win-win situation. (He’s also the author of The Narnian, a biography of C.S. Lewis which I’d love to get around to one of these days.)
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Finally. Returning to McCarthy’s work is like reuniting with an old and dear friend. The man is a genius, I tell you. The Crossing is the second book in his Border Trilogy, following two teenage boys across the American Southwest and Mexico in the years before WWII. If it’s anywhere near as good as All the Pretty Horses, I’ll be elated.
Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Mitchell
A grandly-conceived and elaborately-executed piece of contemporary literature. It is essentially a novel of novellas – a series of loosely connected stories put together like nested dolls. Mitchell’s writing is fabulous, his ability to dance from genre to genre wildly entertaining. I’m just over half-way through it: here’s hoping the final act is as satisfying as the first.
On Writing Well by William Zinsser
I’ve been told this is one of those can’t-miss books for writers. As I dig deeper into it, I can see why. This guy knows his stuff, and I’m more than ready to listen. For instance, he says, “Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with ‘but.’ If that’s what you learned, unlearn it – there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces a total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change.” YES.

What’s on your bookshelf right now?