Sunday, June 3, 2012
A Slip of the Tong: Review
What is going on at the prestigious Werner-Bok Library now? The Director, Nelson Brooks, decides to take some time off and leaves Crighton Jones, former head of public relations and now administrative assistant and right-hand woman, in charge. He's barely out of the building and on his plane when a mystery with an Asian connection comes along. First, two night workers in the Asian reading room stacks are shot and killed just outside their homes. The police are looking for connections to drug trafficking, but Crighton isn't so sure. Then one visiting Chinese researcher is killed as well and another abruptly disappears--and the local tong which had been supporting him refuses to discuss the matter with Crighton. There are also rumors that either some very rare and valuable Chinese volumes are hidden among the uncatalogued materials in the Asian back rooms or clues to their whereabouts will be found there. Are Chinese Nationalists or Communists behind all this intrigue? Or is it just good, old-fashioned greed with someone wanting to get their hands on undocumented treasure? Crighton calls in her mystery-solving friends Edward George, emeritus librarian at Yale, and Steve Carlson, an archeologist with a penchant for pertinent research....and a vested interest in Crighton's safety, and the three of them get to the bottom of the mystery with the help of the library's Asian American intern.
A Slip of the Tong by Charles Goodrum is, I think, one book too many for the Library of Congress's former coordinator of research. Goodrum, as he should, knows his way around libraries and his depiction of the workings of the Werner-Bok Library is right on target. The mystery itself is interesting, although not quite as sharply played as usual. But his characters are becoming caricatures of themselves. What passed for witty bon mots and by-play between Jones, Edward George, and Steve Carson now sounds trite and sometimes condescending towards other characters in the story. Somebody (whether it's the characters themselves or the author) seems awfully uncomfortable with Asian Americans and Chinese Nationals and the interactions with most of those characters are stiff and stereotypical. Lots of "inscrutable" being tossed around, for instance. If you like mysteries set in a library, then go for any of Goodrum's previous three books (I'm partial to Dewey Decimated, but Carnage of the Realm and The Best Cellar are good solid reads as well) and give this one a miss. Two stars out of five.