“The Fan Tan Players” tells the story of Nadia Shashkova, a Russian refugee, and Iain Sutherland, a Scottish spy working for the British government. In part one of the book they meet in Macau or Macao, as it was called by the Portuguese, in the spring of 1928. Nadia is 28 and therefore, “on the shelf.” She helps her uncle in his tobacconist shop and looks after her mother who is still in mourning for her husband who was savagely beaten by peasants in Russia and then disappeared. Officially a clerical worker in the British Consulate, Iain is an ex-soldier who is investigating the source of local opium trading which from the very first page is shown clearly to be dangerous and terrifying.
Iain courts Nadia because he believes the opium smuggling is connected to packages of tobacco for her uncle, but soon he is smitten by her, although she remains detached. The story of their relationship is deeply entangled in the history of the time. The book spans 1928 to 1945 in four parts as Iain travels from Macao to Russia, back to Scotland and finally to Hong Kong at a critical time in world history.
Fan Tan is a gambling game which Nadia enjoys playing when she is out with Iain and she later proves herself still to be a brave gambler, even with her own life, for the sake of those she loves. Both she and Iain suffer many hardships and tragedies but both possess indomitable spirit.
I found this novel mesmerising. The characters are warm, stubborn and real and the history, only some of which I knew, was fascinating. The setting in 1920s Macao is vividly described and atmospheric. I shall certainly seek out Julian Lees again.
“Before the Dawn,” is the aptly titled second book in Georgia Rose’s Grayson trilogy. After reading, “A Single Step,” a romance grounded in the tale of Emma Grayson, a capable heroine who had been broken by tragedy, I was intrigued by its other strand of dramatic adventure and fear, engendered by her boyfriend Trent’s work in undercover military action.
“Before the Dawn,” finds Emma Grayson and Trent tentatively exploring their new relationship while living on the Melton Estate where Emma is the groom to Lord Cavendish and his young family. But this is not just an ordinary farming estate, for most of the workforce, including Trent, disappear for periods of time for action against Russian criminals, involving state of the art equipment and military expertise. Soon they are all warned that Cavendish and his wife and children are the targets of a kidnapping plan. At first Emma is tempted to run, but her love for Trent gives her courage and soon her skill as a horse rider and her strength of character enable her to cope with danger and terror.
The increased pace and action-packed events in this novel make for a thrilling read, based on our increasing understanding of Emma and Trent. Emma’s well-rounded character includes empathy and practical help for others in need and there are hints about her childhood suggesting interesting developments in the third book of the trilogy. There has also been evidence of betrayal, but who can be responsible?
If I have any criticism of this book it is the slightly confusing use of similar names such as Carlton/Cavendish and Turner/Trent but that is probably just my personal hang up. I particularly like the fact that the novel is not entrenched in the mould of one fixed genre. Here we have contemporary relationship problems, drama, intrigue and mystery and superb characterisation. What more could you want?
You can read my review of “A Single Step,” the first book in the trilogy, here.