What if someone you loved died and left you a letter plus a few important items? And the letter turned out to be a to-do list for vengeance? And those things were not mementos, but rather a gun, a counterfeit passport and some cash?
In Beijing Payback, California college student Victor Li and his sister, Jules, are stunned when their father, Vincent, a beloved owner of three Chinese restaurants, is murdered. In short order, they discover the aforementioned bizarre and alarming contents of their father’s safe, and a mysterious man named Sun—who knows all about their dad, though they had no idea Sun existed—shows up, ready to assist Victor in going to China to exact revenge on Vincent’s behalf.
It’s a dangerous, quite possibly fatal undertaking (for one thing, Victor’s a college athlete, not an assassin), but he ultimately decides to fulfill his dad’s wishes for one reason: Their comfortable life in suburban America wasn’t due solely to proceeds from the restaurants but from profits earned by the global crime syndicate his father and a few friends founded in post-Mao China.
This is not a typical realizing-your-parents-are-flawed story, to be sure, and debut author Daniel Nieh really goes for it, packing in action, suspense, drama, plus some humor and sexiness, too. The author’s background in Chinese-English translation serves him well, as skillfully employed language throughout evokes Victor’s ties to his Chinese heritage and reinforces his ability to move between cultures as he tries on various personas: basketball player, suave dude, loyal friend, family member . . . and righteous badass?
Drunken college parties give way to terrifying, blood-spattered encounters as the stakes grow ever higher, and Victor must reckon with the truth about his family’s past and its implications for his future in this entertaining, colorful debut.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Daniel Nieh about Beijing Payback.