Skip to main content

The Gold Swan

Review

The Gold Swan



The Gold Swan is the nickname of a fabulous building being
constructed, fictionally, in present-day Hong Kong --- more
precisely, on a man-made island in Hong Kong harbor. The nickname
comes from the unique, curving shape its architect has given to the
structure, which is best described in the author's own words: "It
was the tallest structure ever created by man and made of steel and
bronze, those metals that are the very embodiment of solidity and
it was a massive thing. Yet it was also slender, with delicate
edges and was one long, elegant curve that some architecture
critics were calling feminine. It was solid and inert, planted out
there in the middle of the harbor, yet it was also soaring, more
than seven hundred feet higher than the Peak, reaching skyward in a
fluid, rounded motion, touching the clouds. And it was a chameleon,
its bronze casing throwing back the gold of the sun and also
reflecting images of passing clouds and the restless water of the
harbor, endlessly changing as the day unfolded."

Clay Williams is a former FBI man approximately in his 40's. He has
been working for ten years in Hong Kong as a security agent for
international projects and has been one of three security men on
the Gold Swan project from the beginning. Clay's visiting father is
killed in a fall from the 20th story balcony of Clay's apartment at
the same time that an eleven year-old boy disappears from his
next-door neighbor's apartment --- and the plot is set in motion.
The Hong Kong police say the father's death is suicide and they
plant a couple of ridiculous clues as proof, but Clay knows better.
It doesn't take the boy's grandfather long to find Clay and to
discern a connection between death and disappearance and, thus, an
unlikely but colorful and productive alliance is formed.

Clay is well connected. He has a best friend who is a police
officer and he has other friends in the CIA and State Department.
He's quiet, capable, thoughtful and

unassuming --- an appealing character whose heroic qualities are
present in a muted key. After ten years in Hong Kong, Clay still
sees the city with the eyes of a stranger who just happens to know
his way around and he shares that vision constantly with us. He
also educates us about the changes that have occurred since the
British returned Hong Kong to China a few years ago. Ah yes. The
plot thickens with those changes. John Llewellyn, architect of the
Gold Swan, went to college with the (fictional) leader of China,
who of course is based in Beijing; the fabulous building is

a way for Beijing to put its stamp on Hong Kong, to reclaim that
city and its international prestige and wealth for the whole of
China. Beijing-Hong Kong tension looms large.

Eventually it develops that Clay's father was killed and the little
boy was kidnapped as part of a conspiracy surrounding the Gold
Swan. It is a conspiracy so huge that, like the building itself,
it's hard for the mind to grasp. Clay begins, secretly, to work
with the CIA. At the same time, he's working with the boy's
grandfather who is in an amazing line of business. He also has his
own job to do, as the Gold Swan nears completion. It's a sort of
triple-agent scenario that Clay juggles quietly and smoothly, even
as he manages to nurture a friendship with a difficult woman.

Thayer handles his large story well, particularly in the way he
brings Hong Kong alive on his pages. This is one of those books you
can fall into and, when you come out of it, feel as if you've truly
spent many hours in another place. It's about as close to a
vacation in Hong Kong as most of us will ever get.

The characters, especially the little boy, his friends and his
family, are vividly drawn. There are few clich├ęs here -- with
the notable exception of a certain henchman of enormous size, who
seemed to have come from a Bond movie and whose guardian angel
qualities were improbable all around.

The plot unfolds somewhat unevenly, but realistically -- life
itself never unfolds at an even pace, particularly around big
events; there are always hitches and glitches. This is a thoughtful
book best read for the whole scope of what it has to say, not as if
it were a print version of a summer blockbuster movie. Tension
builds here slowly but inexorably, both in the ever-widening
conspiracy surrounding the Gold Swan and in Clay's own personal
life. The denouement, when it arrives, is huge, catastrophic
and

totally believable.

THE GOLD SWAN is a poignant, sensual read that is likely to stay
with you long after you close the pages of the book. It is, in
fact, a keeper -- one of those rare books you are likely to want to
read again.

Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 22, 2011

The Gold Swan
by James Thayer

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0684862867
  • ISBN-13: 9780684862866