On a wintry foggy morning in San Fransisco in June 1950, when the bloated corpse of Carlo Steffano, a mob lawyer, rolls out of a cargo net, Inspector Andrew Johnson hardly feels any remorse for the dead man. However, what complicates matters further is the discovery of another corpse—that of Hector Arroyo—in the trunk of a nearby car. Arroyo is a drug mule and works for the Mexicans.
This piques the interest of Johnson and his partner, Camozzi, since the mob and the Mexicans are fierce competitors. Hence, it doesn’t make any sense for these two bodies to be discovered near each other. Thus, starts a fateful investigation into these grisly murders, told in the first person from the perspective of Johnson, that plunges him neck-deep into the quagmire of drugs, brothels, and Communism in China.
R. A. Niles’ China Basin, the second installment in the Andrew Johnson series, is a noir mystery/suspense thriller that took me on a roller-coaster ride through the underground tunnels of San Francisco, in a close lock-up with hardened criminals, and deep into a brothel that also operates as an opium den.
It’s set in the 1950s against the backdrop of the rise of Communism in China and simultaneous conflicts in Southeast Asia. Add to this the simmering pot of racial discrimination against colored people in America (Johnson is black), and you have a potboiler in your hand. These historical events bear directly on the events in this book and consequently, make it an addictive edge-of-the-seat thriller.
Niles provides lucid explanations of the police procedures which make it easy to follow them. Further, he has sketched each character adroitly which made for a pleasant reading experience. Andrew is a self-righteous, honest man. While others are busy going after the bigger fish and are willing to sacrifice ordinary citizens of the country and innocent, helpless immigrants as collateral damage, Andrew, on the other hand, looks out for them. Despite threats to his life, he carries on with the investigation.
Make no mistake. At 400 pages, the story is convoluted and long. There are twists and turns galore, and so are the suspects. I had to follow every clue and remember every past event to keep up with the frenetic pace of the book. However, it was a rewarding experience. The few chapters at the end kept me on tenterhooks.
If you like to read old-fashioned detective work based on reasoning and car chases, sans the DNA magic, pick up China Basin by R. A. Niles.
I reviewed this book for Readers’ Favorite. This doesn’t affect my opinion on the book at all. I opted to publish it on my blog.