Francisco is at once a city of beauty and mystery, of hope and
despair. It defies a consistent definition, being more a collection
of neighborhoods in occasional uneasy proximity of each other than
a cohesive unit. STEALING THE DRAGON, Tim Maleeny's debut novel,
successfully captures not only the bright atmosphere of San
Francisco but also the darker aspects of its soul, in a manner
perhaps previously matched only by Dashiell Hammett.
STEALING THE DRAGON is a crime noir tour of San Francisco's
Chinatown, conducted by an occasionally abrasive but nonetheless
likable detective and an unforgettable assassin who lead the reader
down alleys that are worlds away from the usual tourist haunts. The
detective in question is Cape Weathers, an ex-cop who you wouldn't
necessarily want to pal around with but who nonetheless would be on
the short list of people you could trust to watch your back.
Weathers is reluctantly drawn into a homicide investigation when a
container ship runs aground on Alcatraz Island. A group of Chinese
refugees are on board, along with a brutally murdered crew.
The incident occurs almost simultaneously with the smuggling of a
highly valued talisman out of China and the disappearance of Sally,
an enigmatic and dangerous associate of Weathers. The Triads, an
ancient and powerful alliance of crime entities, want that
talisman, and the dots have been connected to Sally and Weathers.
Bodies begin piling up, and soon the police --- at least some of
them --- are after Weathers as well. In the best tradition of noir
private eyes, Maleeny has assembled an intriguing cast of secondary
characters to help Weathers navigate his way through a dark and
deadly maze where few can be trusted and no one is safe.
While Maleeny skillfully leads his reader through a complex plot,
the real star of STEALING THE DRAGON is Chinatown itself. He takes
his characters far off the well-treaded paths of the visitor tours
and wanders down the alleys that are usually seen only momentarily,
if at all, as the buses speed by. Maleeny's compelling descriptions
match his plot points for intrigue, resulting in a work that is
part noir thriller and part exotic travelogue, and that reads like
a collaboration between the aforementioned Hammett and Sax
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011