The Deepest Edge
by Jessica Hall, contemporary (2003)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-20796-3


This book is actually the fourth book in a series. The author started the series when she wrote under the name Gena Hale. Apparently Gena Hale doesn't have too many fans other than Catherine Coulter, so Signet decides to retire Gena Hale and bring Jessica Hall out of their closet instead. I suggest you read those Gena Hale books first, because the voluminous backstory here can be tough on the newbie reader. That last sentence is a credible way of me saying that I have no idea what is going on in The Deepest Edge. I'm too busy staring at the book in mild horror.

See, the hero is Chinese. T'ang Jian-Shan is his name. I am reminded of a mainland Chinese friend who jokes that he has encountered more Chinese people with apostrophes in their names in books written by Americans and British than in his life staying in China. Only somewhere later into the story does the author explain that T'ang is born in China and spends his early years in Japan, hence his fascination with Japanese history and antiquities. For a long time, I thought the author has somehow got things mixed up and assumed that the actually very different Japanese and Chinese cultures as one and the same. Even so, the Japanese culture - as it is portrayed to me - baffles me. T'ang Jian-Shan is more Japanese than any Japanese I know, ie he panders shamelessly to the "exotic" stereotype of silent, martial-arts-gung-ho type - with a British accent so that he won't be too exotic for those American romance readers, of course.

He rescues our Sinophile heroine Valence St Charles when she is attacked while trying to peek at his Japanese samurai swords. She soon finds herself trapped in a giant web of conspiracy and murder involving everything from the Japanese Sopranos - or is it Chinese? - to corrupt authorities, so much so that soon, subplots get sucked into the black hole never to be seen again. Val's reason to meet Jian is soon forgotten as the author gets carried away in her campaign to be the new Eric V Lustbader.

Oh, and I almost forgot - the hilarious 1960s time-warp depiction of Japanese and Chinese culture! Submissive women waiting to service any powerful and lusty men even as they speak in halting pidgin English! Those dragon lady sterotypes - also willing to service powerful and lusty men! The Deepest Edge is so out of touch with contemporary Japanese and Chinese culture in that the cultural elements seem to come out of the Japanese version of Chairman Mao's red book.

This quite funny to read because it is so ridiculously over-the-top in trying to sell a so-called exotic culture to an American audience, like those silly kung-fu movies made in Hollywood. The plot doesn't make sense most of the time, the characters are of two stark cardboard varieties ("exotic stereotype" and "American/European"), and some of the dialogs are laughable. Jessica Hall comes close to outdoing Eric V Lustbader in out-Tai-Panning the real Tai-Pan with her The Deepest Edge. It's not insulting like, say, Michael Crichton's offensively stupid Rising Sun, so it's good for a short laugh, a laugh that soon gives way to a snort as I shake my head at the whole silly nonsense. Are the Japanese really that exotic?

Rating: 65


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