More noise than signal

China White — Peter Maas

Drugs, as I’m sure we are all aware of by this point, Are Bad. Or at least, the Bad ones are Bad. Penicillin, that’s a Good Drug. So I suppose we ought to say that Bad Drugs Are Bad. However, let us not muddy these waters of definition and stick with the commonly accepted wisdom that Drugs Are Bad. The Baddest of Bad drugs, clearly, is heroin. That’s really Bad. If the field of Drugs Badness was, say, 1980’s WWF then heroin would be the Million Dollar Man. That’s how Bad heroin is. While China White concerns itself largely with heroin trafficking, thankfully it is not Bad. In fact, it’s quite good.

It’s something of a potboiler, with this pot in particular filled with Triads, the Mafia, the CIA, the FBI and an idealistic young lawyer. Said layer Tom MacLean joins a prestigious law firm after a successful stint as a public prosecutor, largely because of his ex-CIA father’s connections to a Y.K. Deng, a wealthy Hong Kong businessman, moving to the U.S prior to the handover of HK to China, whom the company wish to land as a client. To complicate things, he’s one of those ‘legitimate businessman’ whose ‘legitimate business’ plays second fiddle to his duties as Dragon Head of one of the five biggest Triad families. While he’s hatching a plot to flood the U.S. with heroin number five, the titular China White, he must also deal with an inconveniently Westernised daughter, distribution chains (hence Mafia involvement) and rivalries with other Triads gangs. Phew! And he’s not even the main character, most of the emoting and development playing through either MacLean or his headstrong FBI girlfriend Shannon O’Shea, who inconveniently for their relationship happens to be investigating Deng.

As page-turners go it’s very good indeed, whipping along at the breakneck pace you’d typically expect of any halfway decent thriller. I’m surprised that it hadn’t been simplified somewhat and picked up for film duties somewhere in the jingoistic void that the collapse of the Soviet Union left in the super-villainy world. There’s more than one red menace, you know, and it’s not as if Peter Maas’ precious Serpico didn’t establish some sort of track record. While it’s insight on organised crime and black ops may, by their very nature, be somewhat difficult to corroborate with reality it presents a convincing enough scenario for it’s action, a believable mechanism for the bad guy’s eventual downfall and all-in-all is just a fun book to read.