"A literary thriller", Dragonfish * * * by Whiting Award winner Vu Tran is the "nuanced and elegiac, noirish first novel" of an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Chicago.
Robert Ruen, an Oakland (CA) cop with an anger management issue is forced at gunpoint to travel to Las Vegas in order to help find Suzy, his Vietnamese ex-wife who has disappeared from her new husband, Sonny, a violent Vietnamese businessman, smuggler and gambler. As Robert pursues Suzy through the sleek and seamy gambling dens of Las Vegas, shadowed by Sonny's sadistic son, "Junior," he realizes how little he knows of her - from her perilous escape from war-torn Vietnam, to the dangers and hazards in a Malaysian refugee camp where she first met Sonny.
Parallel to Robert's investigation is a secondary narrative in the form of letters to a daughter Suzy abandoned decades ago, throwing light on a woman debilitated by sorrow and haunted by ghosts and guilt.
"Vu Tran takes a strikingly poetic and profoundly evocative approach to the conventions of crime fiction in this supple, sensitive, wrenching, and suspenseful tale of exile, loss, risk, violence, and the failure to love."
"A superb debut novel…that takes the noir basics and infuses them with the bitters of loss and isolation peculiar to the refugee and immigrant tale. " (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air). Also check out this week's The New York Times Book Review for Chris Abani's review (and podcast), whose The Secret History of Las Vegas would be an interesting readalike.
* * * = 3 starred reviews