Review

Bad Traffic: An Inspector Jian Novel

by Simon Lewis

BAD TRAFFIC, Simon Lewis’s debut novel, is a
fish-out-of-water story featuring two fish, similarly situated, who
find each other and form an odd, disparate bond. Actually,
“bond” might not be the right term. It takes them a
while to become buddies, and there are some betrayals along the
way. In the end, however, they discover that they have more in
common than not and that it goes beyond their shared heritage and
culture.

Lewis has a unique narrative technique. BAD TRAFFIC consists of
nine sections, each of which tells one long story and is further
divided into chapters. The first of these sections concerns
Inspector Jian, a Chinese cop who is composed of power and
corruption in equal measure. Jian is used to getting his way; we
know that immediately as he lumbers about the British university
that he believed his daughter was attending. He is unable to speak
or read English and can find no one who is familiar with Mandarin
Chinese. He is also a bully who uses his power to bad ends.

His sole redeeming quality --- at least so it seems at first ---
is his love for Wei Wei, his daughter. Jian has left the relative
comfort of his home and the potential embrace of a young woman to
answer a frantic call for help from Wei Wei. He gets his footing,
after a fashion, and begins a painstaking attempt to trace her
whereabouts, going from her past residence, where she has not lived
in months, to her former employer, where she has not worked in
months. When he is finally shown a movie that shows Wei Wei being
brutally murdered, he undertakes a thorough, methodical program of
revenge, one that causes him to cross paths with an illegal
immigrant named Ding Ming.

Ding Ming is introduced in the book’s second section. He
has come to England with his wife by way of indentured servitude,
an arrangement that is stacked so that he has virtually no way of
paying it off. Upon landing in England, Ming and his wife are
immediately separated and he is put to forced farm labor. Unlike
most of the illegal immigrants with whom he is working, Ming has a
unique talent: he can speak English.

The common thread that ultimately brings these two very
different men together is Black Fort, a despicable
“snakehead” (smuggler of illegal aliens) who is
responsible not only for the dire straits of Ming but also for the
cruel fate of Wei Wei. As Ming and Jian join in an uneasy and
easily fractured collaboration, they develop a grudging friendship
that, with Jian, also becomes a unique respect for Ming. An
innocent abroad, Ming is infused with hope and good faith, and most
importantly, an unconquerable love for his wife. He is, however, no
one’s pushover and will do what he must to achieve his
goal.

While there is a mystery at the heart of BAD TRAFFIC, it is
ultimately a deep character study, one that is by turns amusing,
haunting and satisfying. More will be seen from all, and
welcomed.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

Bad Traffic: An Inspector Jian Novel
by Simon Lewis

  • Publication Date: December 9, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1416593535
  • ISBN-13: 9781416593539