Author: Dave Lowry
Performed by MacLeod Andrews
Released: July 2014 by Audible Studios
'Driving home after being kicked out of college, Tucker meets and picks up the mysterious Corinne Chang at a rest stop. Infatuated, and with nothing better to do, he ends up with her in St. Louis, where he gets a job as a chef in a Chinese restaurant. Even though he’s a gwai lo—a foreign devil—his cooking skills impress the Chinese patrons of the restaurant, and his wooing skills impress Corinne when she joins him there as a waitress. But when Chinese gangsters show up demanding diamonds they believe Tucker’s kind-of, sort-of, don’t-call-her-a-girlfriend stole, he and his friends—which luckily include a couple of FBI agents—have to figure out just who is gunning for Corinne and how to stop them. Good thing Tucker is a Mandarin-speaking martial arts master who isn’t afraid to throw the first punch.'
The story is narrated by Tucker, lately of Beddingfield College, who happens to be a highly skilled Chinese chef, a martial arts practitioner and he also speaks Mandarin. After picking up hitchhiker Corinne Chang, a gemologist from Montreal, on his way to St Louis to hook up with his best friend, Langston Wu, they are entangled in a caper involving criminals, diamonds, murder and the FBI.
Each chapter begins with one of Tucker’s rules, of which he seems to have an unending list, relating to unfolding events..
'Rule #19: Never pick up strangers at a highway rest stop unless they speak Mandarin…
…She reached over and took the strap of her duffle and stood up.
“Fine,” she said. “But I’m accepting a ride from you not because I believe a word you’re saying but because I just think it’s unlikely I’m going to be in danger from anyone who uses a word like ‘exsanguination’”
She followed me out to the lot behind us , tossed her duffle into the rear of the car and sat in the passenger seat, clicking on her seat belt.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
I backed out of the lot and threaded through the parking lot to the exit back onto the I-93. “St Louis, Missouri,: I said, “by way of Massachusetts. How about you?”
“Buffalo, New York. By way of any way I can get there.”'
Tucker is a charming protagonist, if a little unconventional, full of quick, witty dialogue, tough yet sensitive. The banter between him and Corinne is fun and their attraction to each other is touching. Original and off-beat characters, Chinese culture in-depth and romance, sometimes it’s a refreshing change to have a more lighthearted mystery without the deep and dark aspect. The action scenes with Tucker using xing-i, his preferred form of martial arts, are well written and very interesting.
The author is unmistakably very knowledgable about Chinese food, it’s preparation and cooking, as well as the workings of a Chinese restaurant kitchen. It was interesting to follow ‘a day in the life’ of a chef and fun to have an insider’s view of the kitchen and what goes on, especially the insults that are thrown back and forth as a matter of course and in a non serious way.
For me, a little more time could have been spent on the plot and the characters, the cookery and food descriptions, although incredibly and deliciously detailed, seemed to take over at times and overshadow the main story.
MacLeod Andrews delivers one of his consistently excellent performances to make this an entertaining and fun narrative.