Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Shanghai Noon

Brendan Lavin is an ex-con trying to make an honest living in New York City. It’s not an easy thing to do. His bakery is floundering, business is bad, and the bills are getting bigger and harder to pay. When his girl’s second cousin Tommy walks in with news of a job, Brendan initially wants nothing to do with it. But the rent is about to go up again, his supplier – of baking ingredients, that is – has cut him off, and he won’t be able to pay all his bills. Finally, he picks up the phone and gives Tommy a call and learns about the job.

It’s an armoured car heist, and it’s supposed to be as easy as taking candy from a baby. But it goes wrong; terribly, terribly wrong. Four people end up dead, and Brendan is torn up with guilt. When Maureen finds out about what he’s done, she leaves him. And so, Brendan takes his money and decides to start over again in Shanghai. But twelve years later, the past comes back with a vengeance when Brendan’s former colleagues find him, and they demand his help in another job…

The plot I’ve described is the new book Tomorrow City, by first-time author Kirk Kjeldsen. Full disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. And all I can say is that this is an impressive debut novel. In fact, it hardly feels like a debut novel at all. It feels more like the work of a seasoned professional.

The plot, for instance. It’s very neatly worked out. The book is tightly-plotted, fast-paced, and exciting. There’s no extraneous padding, and yet the author manages to include things like character development. Brendan is a very fascinating and complex character. He tries to be a good guy, but nobody really cares about that – the world seems dead-set against him, whether it’s his landlord or his supplier or a rude customer who wonders why he doesn’t offer coffee, or have a wider variety of baked goods. When he finally snaps and decides to go back to his thieving ways, tragedy strikes and it scares him halfway across the world. He tries to start all over, and although things initially go very well – he has a new life, with a wife and daughter in Shanghai, and a thriving bakery –  it’s only a matter of time before the past catches up with him…

Author Kirk Kjeldsen
The thematic elements are also very nicely woven into the fabric of the story. Particularly important is the theme of death and rebirth, of trying to start over again, of trying to reinvent yourself. I don’t want to describe this theme in too much depth, but suffice to say that the Shanghai described by the author is the ideal setting for such a story. Shanghai itself almost becomes a character, and yet the author doesn’t take twenty pages to set the scene.

That in itself may be one of the book’s finest accomplishments. The author is to-the-point. He doesn’t give you any extraneous, unnecessary detail, which makes the details you do get that much more fascinating and vivid. You only learn what you need to know, and as a result the book is a slim one at approximately 200 pages. In this day and age, where many authors write bloated, 500-page epics (where nothing happens for 200 pages), it’s refreshing to read a book that is so crisp and stark. It’s also very, very tough and that makes the action scenes and the moments of tension that much more visceral.

This wasn’t just short, it was also a really quick read – I read it in two sittings, and the only reason I put it down at one point is because of prior commitments. I really didn’t want to put this book down, and was a bit sad when it was over and I realized that there’d be no more.

Overall, Tomorrow City is an exciting and promising debut novel. I certainly hope that the author continues in this writing game – he has plenty of talent, and if this novel foreshadows the things yet to come from Kirk Kjeldsen’s pen, I am very excited for the next books.


  1. I read this one a month or two ago and it worked for me,

  2. Sounds great Patrick, always good to hear about a book that succeeds so completely on its own terms - thanks mate.