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Review: “Take No Names”, by Daniel Nieh

DO NOT TAKE NAMES, by Daniel Nieh

It’s hard to write a thriller that takes place in the modern world. After all, a dependable aspect of classic black is that the shiny veneer of a placid community is torn away, revealing the teeming rot and societal corruption below. (Think James Ellroy’s “LA Confidential” or David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet.”) to see?

Daniel Nieh’s second novel, “Take No Names”, tackles this problem elegantly, at least for a time. It’s a thriller for the global age, with characters entangled in cross-border conflicts and international intrigue. Our hero, Victor Li — whom we met in 2019’s ‘Beijing Payback’, of which ‘Take No Names’ is a sequel — arrives as a loser, a good man set in the path of a vagrant by the murder of his father. and a seismic revelation about his Chinese family’s past.

At the start of our story, Li lives in Seattle and works for Mark, a former military peddler who sells high-tech security systems, only to turn around and rob his customers. They survive until they stumble upon an ingenious scam: robbing a federally run warehouse, where the stolen goods of recently deported people are stored. In black, it is a pointed vanity. They steal valuables from someone who doesn’t own them but has robbed them from people who have no hope of ever getting them back. Victor and Mark are simply the remora fish that feed on the system shark.

The plot kicks off with the faithful arrival of a MacGuffin; in this case, a box that Victor discovers among the belongings of a woman named Song Fei, who has been deported to China. Inside the box is a gem – painite, a conflict stone quarried in Myanmar, banned from legitimate sale thanks to sanctions. “Painite without papers,” whispers Mark, when Victor shares his potentially lucrative discovery. “It’s about as easy to sell as enriched uranium.” Fortunately, the box also includes an enigmatic clue about a mysterious buyer in Mexico City. Here we go !

Two thugs on the loose, a forbidden gem and a distant destination: so far, the mix is ​​simmering well. Victor and Mark head to the border with a ticking clock in their rear view mirror (they left the incapacitated storage facility manager in his office; when he’s discovered, the law will be on their trail) and a fortune in the way. ‘horizon. The action is lively, the dialogue catchy. Once the pair arrive in Mexico City, the story crackles, feeling well plugged into the superheated power grid of an interconnected world.

Then ‘Take No Names’ detours into an entirely different novel, abruptly shifting to global shenanigans, corporate malfeasance, covert paramilitary units and spectacular explosions – something closer to ‘The Bourne Identity’ than “The Maltese Falcon”. Perhaps it’s time for Nieh to tear apart the facade and expose the corrupt inner workings of the world. But as a result, the novel detaches itself from the engaging, human-scale story that has grounded it thus far. Some readers may appreciate this bait and switch, while others, like me, may feel nostalgic for the more modest travel novel they’ve enjoyed so far.

Yet in the end, Nieh laid out a practical roadmap for global blackness in the modern world: characters torn between nations, exploiting a system that is itself inherently exploitative, getting carried away by international currents that they barely understand. If a lesson from classic noir was that the world isn’t always as it seems, Nieh’s novel takes a different view: the world is crazier than you know and maybe even slightly crazier. crazy than you expected.

Adam Sternbergh’s most recent novel is “The Blinds”.

DO NOT TAKE NAMES, by Daniel Nieh | 304 pages | Eco | $28.99