Friday, December 18, 2009


Synopsis from inside cover:
Tommy Phan is a thirty-year-old Vietnamese-American detective novelist living in Southern California, and a chaser of the American dream. He drives home his brand-new Corvette one day to discover a strange doll on his doorstep. It's rather like a rag doll, but is covered entirely with white cloth, having no face or hair or clothes, little more than a doll blank. Where the eyes should be, there are two crossed stitches of black thread. Five sets of crossed black stitches mark the mouth, and another pair form an X over the heart.

He brings it into the house. That night, he hears an odd little popping sound and looks up to see the crossed stitches breaking over the doll's heart. When he picks the doll up, he feels something pulsing in its chest. Another thread unravels to reveal a reptilian green eye - not a doll's eye, because it blinks. Tommy Phan pursues the thing as it scrambles away into his house - and then is pursued by it as it evolves from a terrifying and vicious minikin into a hulking and formidable opponent bent on killing him. THE DEADLINE IS DAWN, the creature types on Tommy's computer screen, and in the hours that follow, with the help of a beautiful, strangely intuitive waitress he meets on the highway, Tommy frantically flees this fierce enemy, desperate to discover what this thing is and why it's pursuing him.

Favorite passages:
"The falling rain captured the light of the leaping fire, carrying it into puddles on the ground, which glimmered like pools of melting doubloons and flickered with the shadow of the capering minikin." "Night was creeping over the coast. Above the rising land to the east, the heavens were black and stippled with stars. To the west, the ocean was inky near the shore, striped with the foam of incoming breakers, but indigo toward the horizon, where a final blade of bloody sunlight still cleaved the sea from the sky."

"Chain lightning flared outside, and with arachnid frenzy, the turbulent shadows of wind-shaken trees thrashed across the glass." "The last red slash of the sunset had seeped away. The wounded night in the west had healed, sky to sea, and in the natural world, all was dark. The only relief from blackness was the unnatural glow from the houses on the eastern hills and from the cars and trucks racing along the coast. The flashes of headlights and taillights suddenly seemed frenzied and ominous, as though all the drivers of those vehicles were speeding towards appointments with one form of damnation or another."

aplomb - complete and confident composure or self-assurance; poise "In spite of the perspiration that sheathed him and the tremor that periodically fluttered through his belly, Tommy was gaining confidence by the minute. He felt that he was handling this bizarre situation with remarkable aplomb, conducting himself with sufficient courage and calculation to impress even Chip Nguyen."

balustrade - a row of balusters topped by a rail; a low parapet or barrier "It was an enormous, sprawling, wildly romantic Mediterrean villa with deep loggias behind colonnades, arches upon arches, lattice panels dripping with the white blossoms of night-blooming jasmine, balustraded balconies shaded by trellises groaning under the weight of red-flowering bougainvillaea, bell towers and cupolas, so many steeply pitched barrel-tile roofs hipping into one another that Tommy might have been looking down on an entire Italian village rather than at a single structure."

bergere - an upholstered armchair of an 18th century style having an exposed wood frame "Taking off her plastic rain scarf but not her coat, Mother Phan settled into a bergere-style chair and sat with her purse on her lap.

chapeau - hat "Tommy expected her to don the frivolous red flannel chapeau with characteristic defiance, but she crammed it back into her jacket pocket."

chinoiserie - a style in art (as in decoration) reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs; also an object or decoration in this style "Mrs. Dai sat in an oversize black chinoiserie chair with a padded seat covered in gold and white brocade."

epicanthic - a prolongation of a fold of the skin of the upper eyelid over the inner angle or both angles of the eye "In the rearview mirror, he studied the epicanthic folds of his dark Asian eyes, wondering if he was in danger of trading his true identity for one that was a lie."

fecund - fruitful in offspring or vegetation "The breeze was lightly scented with the fecund smell of the nearby ocean; it didn't chill him but, in fact, pleasantly caressed the back of his neck and playfully ruffled his thick black hair."

filigreed - to adorn with ornamental work especially of fine wire of gold, silver, or copper applied chiefly to gold and silver surfaces "Clotting clouds had begun to cover the moon, and fading silver light filigreed their vaporous edges."

flensing - : to strip (as a whale) of blubber or skin "A whirl of dead melaleuca leaves like hundreds of tiny flensing knives spun over him, whispering-buzzing against one another, and he stumbled backward two steps, shielding his eyes with one hand, gasping in surprise."

garrulous - given to prosy, rambling, or tedious loquacity : pointlessly or annoyingly talkative "Chip Nguyen, had been getting wordy in his first-person narration of the story, and the tough but sometimes garrulous gumshoe needed to be edited."

ideograms - a picture or symbol used in a system of writing to represent a thing or an idea but not a particular word or phrase for it "The message was in Vietnamese: three columns of gracefully drawn ideograms in thick black ink."

impatiens - any of a widely distributed genus of annual or perennial herbs with irregular spurred or saccate flowers and forcefully dehiscent capsules "As Tommy swung into his driveway, the bordering beds of white and coral-red impatiens glowed in the headlights as if iridescent."

lambent - softly bright or radiant, marked by lightness or brilliance "Under tattered clouds backlighted by a lambent moon, the street was quiet and deserted, so hushed that he could half believe that a breakdown in the machinery of the cosmos had brought time to a complete halt for everyone and all things except for he himself."

lascivious - lewd, lustful "...bedded either an aggressive redhead with a glorious pneumatic body or a slender Vietnamese girl with a shy demeanor that masked a profoundly lascivious mind."

loggias - a roofed open gallery especially at an upper story overlooking an open court "It was an enormous, sprawling, wildly romantic Mediterrean villa with deep loggias behind colonnades, arches upon arches, lattice panels dripping with the white blossoms of night-blooming jasmine, balustraded balconies shaded by trellises groaning under the weight of red-flowering bougainvillaea, bell towers and cupolas, so many steeply pitched barrel-tile roofs hipping into one another that Tommy might have been looking down on an entire Italian village rather than at a single structure."

patinated - a usually green film formed naturally on copper and bronze by long exposure or artificially; a surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age "The patinated-copper were rectangular with radius corners, and the white stucco was troweled so smoothly that it appeared to be as slick as marble, especially when wet with rain."

pearlescence - having a pearly luster "Once more, the only light was a pale pearlescence that spilled in from the second-floor hallway."

pell-mell - in mingled confusion or disorder; in confused haste "The blackbirds abruptly broke from their pell-mell eastward flight, spiraled over the dining terrace as if battling one another, and then fell to the promenade, where they fluttered on the wet concrete as though stunned."

phantasmagoric - an exhibition of optical effects and illusions; a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined; a scene that constantly changes; a bizarre or fantastic combination, collection, or assemblage "A few dozen feathers in different hues were stuck to the wet concrete or floated in the puddles. Otherwise, it would have been easy to believe that the birds had not been real, but a phenomenal and phantasmagoric illusion."

pinnae - a leaflet or primary division of a pinnate leaf or frond "Under the merciless lash of the rain, the lush ferns drooped almost to the point of humble prostration, their lacy pinnae glimmering with thousands upon thousands of droplets that, in the low landscape lighting, appeared to be incrustations of jewels."

prosaic - everyday, ordinary "It was easier to entertain the possibility that he had suffered something akin to a minor epileptic episode than to believe that a supernatural entity had reached out to touch him through the prosaic medium of a sports-car radio."

quoins - one of the members (as a block) forming a forming a solid exterior angle of a building and usually differentiated from the adjoining walls by material, texture, color, size, or projection "The guardhouse was finished in mottled-pastel stucco with cast-stone wainscot and cast-stone quoins at the corners, and it stood under several enormous, theatrically lighted phoenix palms."

rataplan - the iterative sound of beating "The only sounds were the rataplan of rain on the roof and the moaning of wind in the eaves."

satori - sudden enlightenment and a state of consciousness attained by intuitive illumination representing the spiritual goal of Zen Buddhism "Tommy sensed a satori, a sudden profound insight, looming like a tidal wave, and he waited breathlessly for it to wash over him."

skirling - to scream, to shriek, to emit the high shrill tone of a bagpipe "He stepped into the skirling wind and the rain - and he immediately regretted doing so."

sough - to make a moaning or sighing sound "At first the house was deathly silent. Then the incoming storm clouds finally pulled some ground-level turbulence with them, and the wind began to sough in the eaves."

spoor - a track, a trail, a scent, or droppings especially of a wild animal; a trace by which the progress of someone or something may be followed "It seemed confused. Indeed, its frustration was almost palpable. The thing sensed that they were close, but it could not catch their scent - or whatever more exotic spoor it tracked."

susurration - a whispering sound; murmur "The woman's whisper faded into the susurration of the raindrops dissolving against the puddled pavement."

swale - a low-lying or depressed and often wet stretch of land "A drainage swale, bristling with weeds, loomed in the headlights, and dry brush scraped along the passenger side of the car."

sward - a portion of ground covered with grass "Scootie hesitated at the gap in the pulpit railing, but only briefly, then leaped down onto the concrete sward on the island side of the sea wall."

tenebrous - shut off from the light; dark; murky "He looked around uneasily at the tenebrous forms of the carousel horses."

trice - a very short period of time; an instant "But could we please have coffee and a tray of breakfast pastries?" "In a trice, Miss Payne."