Eric D. Goodman, The Color of Jadeite, Apprentice House Press, Loyola University Maryland, 2020, ISBN: 10-978-1-62720-286-2 260 pages
The two qualities that distinguish Eric Goodman’s entertaining novel The Color of Jadeite, a page-turning thriller, are the ingenuity of the plot and the almost travel book settings in which the frenetic characters explore for clues to the hidden treasure of a one-of-a-kind ancient jadeite tablet. The basic action revolves around the lead character, a sort of Humphrey Bogart, Clive Allan, and a couple of companions from Boston, and the mysterious Chinese beauty Wei Wei, whose mixture of sensual and intellectual seductiveness is its own story. Think Bogart and an Asian Lauren Bacall. Think of silk dresses that come in all colors, and of a most genuine smile and dancing eyes that stop their motion now and then to melt Clive’s heart, as if it were butter. And all of that personal emotion takes place amid a trip by plane, train, car, rickshaw, even a short outing by boat, through China, more particularly Beijing, Suzhou, Shanghai, Xi’an. The good guys vie with some very threatening and determined competitors for the priceless Ming Dynasty tablet.
I don’t want to reveal too many of the details of the plot as it constantly twists and turns and doubles back on the readers as they follow it. So many surprises and discoveries! The novel is pure escapist fiction, which is needed in these days of real-world turmoil.
Besides the plot, the scenery is awe-inspiring. Mr. Goodman, the author, toured China, took copious notes, did much research and fashioned in his words the sights, smells, textures of China. Here is a description of a market in Suzhou:
It takes a lot to shock an old investigator like me, but Mackenzie and Salvador cringed at some of the items for sale. Plastic buckets of live frogs piled three feet high, the amphibians struggling for a place on the top, those on the bottom likely dead or dying. Vats piled high with eels and snakes, wiggling and slithering. Tanks of fish packed so tightly they could only float in the water, no space to swim. A pen of pigs cuddled in the afternoon heat, no room to walk. Caged chickens, pigeons, and other birds cooed and cawed. Dogs and cats roamed, but I wasn’t sure whether they were just pets or meant to be eaten as well.
The narrator, Clive, describes Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City with its intriguing names: the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Middle Harmony, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, the Gate of Heavenly Purity, the Imperial Gardens. Like keystone cops Clive and gang, whether chasing a petty thief, eluding gangsters, or searching for hidden clues to finding the treasure, hop over reverent crowd-restraining ropes, up onto and to the back of museum displays, ducking down to avoid guards; much of iconic China is described in passing. A Marble Boat, jars that are home to retired champion fighting crickets, old Shanghai with European-influenced architecture, new Shanghai with imaginatively designed skyscrapers and the look of the future, the excavation and display in Xi’an of the terracotta army are given their very real presence in this tale of ephemeral visitation and educated but wild search for clues written on or hidden in the most iconic and odd places of Chinese history and culture.
It would be great to reveal the twists of the plot in the story, and praise the artistry in surprising the reader, but the less said the better on this. The individual reader should have their own experience. Steve Berry’s work is an influence on Goodman. If you like Berry’s novels, you should like this book.
On a personal note, I hope Eric Goodman continues to write about Clive Allan and gang. It could make a great series of novels.
© Dan Cuddy and Eric D. Goodman
Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. Most recently he has had poems published in the End of 83, Broadkill Review, Welter, Bhubaneswar Review, the Twisted Vine Literary Journal, the Pangolin Review.
Eric D. Goodman is a full-time writer who lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He is author of Setting the Family Free (Apprentice House Press, 2019), Womb: a novel in utero, (Merge Publishing, 2017), Tracks: A Novel in Stories, (Atticus Books, 2011) and Flightless Goose, a storybook for children (Writer’s Lair Books, 2008). More than a hundred of his works of short fiction, travel stories, and articles about writing have been published in literary journals, magazines, and periodicals. Co-founder and curator of Baltimore’s popular Lit and Art Reading Series, Eric can be found at Facebook.com/EricDGoodman, Twitter.com/Edgewrite, and EricDGoodman.com.