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Onyx reviews: Hong Kong
by Stephen Coonts
Wherever Navy Admiral Jake Grafton goes, democratic reform and revolution
against Communist governments follow. Fresh from assisting post-Castro
revolutionaries in Cuba, Grafton finds himself in Hong Kong, now under Chinese
rule after nearly a century as a British colony.
Grafton's wife, Callie, is lecturing on Western culture at a Chinese university,
a cover for their real mission: Grafton is investigating the American consul
general, Tiger Cole, who may be helping finance a revolution in Hong Kong.
Grafton, who saved Cole's life in Vietnam, was sent to discover how deeply Cole
is involved in the conspiracy.
Grafton soon learns that his old friend is indeed supporting the revolution with
his vast wealth, and has planted back doors into major Chinese systems when his
computer corporations performed Y2K upgrades. The revolutionaries are prepared
to disrupt power grids, transportation systems, national finances, communication
systems and defense networks with a few keystrokes.
Callie Grafton is kidnapped by one of Cole's nemeses, Sonny Wong, a man who sees
the revolution as an opportunity to line his pockets with some of Cole's wealth.
As the people of Hong Kong take to the streets to overthrow the government,
Grafton, assisted by former burglar and CIA agent Tommy Carmellini, comb the
city, trying to locate Grafton's wife and a second kidnapping victim, one of the
symbolic leaders of the revolution.
Stephen Coonts is in the same league as Tom Clancy when it comes to
orchestrating complex plots with military involvement. He knows all of the
latest gadgets and can fabricate new ones to suit the purposes of his stories.
"Hong Kong" features six military robots, the Yorks, advanced killing
machines that have neural networks allowing them to learn as they share
information with each other and the command center. One can only imagine that—in the dark corners of a military research center—devices of this type are on
the drawing board, if not in active development.
Coonts has done his homework, bringing Hong Kong to life. The former British
colony is described in all its glory: the harbor, the Island, Kowloon and the
omnipresent Star Ferry. However, it is also obvious that Coonts wants to share
all of his research with the reader, which results in "information
dumping," the phenomenon where characters, in the course of otherwise
normal conversation, present reams of information. Callie Grafton delivers a
half-page monologue on the Star Ferry, including the total number of ships, the
number of daily crossings and the seating places for each of the classes of
passenger in the midst of a conversation with her husband. This exposition is
unnatural and ultimately unnecessary, since the information does not advance the
plot or play any part in the story.
The novel opens with a murder, and one of the driving forces of the story is the
investigation into who may have committed this crime. However, Coonts underplays
the importance of this plot element and ultimately wraps up the crime in a
throwaway manner that may frustrate some readers.
Coonts' writing is pedestrian at best and awkward at worst, but he does a decent
job with characterization and is a masterful plotter. While he rarely delves
very far below the surface of his characters, he does make them distinct and
unique, with interesting attributes and affectations. One secondary character
owns a fortune cookie company and can often be seen hammering out and revising
pithy fortunes as the revolution takes place around her. This gives Coonts'
stories unexpected depth in a genre where secondary characters are typically
cardboard figures who merely advance the plot.
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