Beijing Payback

A murdered father with a sketchy past. A young man struggling to find an identity. And a mysterious foster son with a wicked plan for revenge …

Victor Li is devastated by his father’s murder, and shocked by a confessional letter he finds among his father’s things. In it, his father admits that he was never just a restaurateur—in fact he was part of a vast international crime syndicate that formed during China’s leanest communist years.

Victor travels to Beijing, where he navigates his father’s secret criminal life, confronting decades-old grudges, violent spats, and a shocking new enterprise that the organization wants to undertake. Standing up against it is likely what got his father killed, but Victor remains undeterred. He enlists his growing network of allies and friends to finish what his father started, no matter the costs.

Beijing Payback by Danial Nieh is a fun, fast-paced thriller of a novel that I highly recommend. It’s a gritty look at an immigrant family that’s anything but normal, led by a father who grew up the hard way and tried to abandon his questionable past. Through an investigation of his life, the main character–Victor, the son–realizes that his father’s ideal American life was a lie. Victor has to come to terms with this while simultaneously fulfilling his father’s last wish of permanently severing ties with his dark side.

In addition to its unique voice and setting, this book also provides a great learning experience. Personally, I found myself unimpressed by Victor’s sister–not in the sense that she was unimpressive, but rather in the sense that her development as a character felt very thin. She essentially plays the role of the doting, worried woman. She tries to talk sense into Victor and, when that fails, threatens him in order to prevent him from making mistakes. She feels, essentially, like a device. She serves a purpose in the narrative instead of existing naturally within the narrative. Looking back, I can’t see any reason for her existence beyond serving as one crucial conduit to another character to move the plot forward. In that sense, I think the book missed an opportunity to round out Victor’s sister (I can’t even remember her name, offhand) and make her more integral to the story.

Still, I enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it. There’s a pulpy, neo-noir edge to it that adds a little extra flavoring.