A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

STEPHEN BECKER – The Chinese Bandit. Random House, hardcover, 1975. Berkley, paperback, 1977.

   Stephen Becker is one of the few Americans who can write the novel of suspense and high adventure as well as, if not better than, his counterparts in Great Britain. The Chinese Bandit is the first of an outstanding trilogy about the postwar years in the Far East (the other two titles are The Last Mandarin, 1979, and The Blue-Eyed Shan, 1982, and is so good that it earned Becker accolades as “a modern Dumas.”

   The bandit of the title is Jake Dodds, a brawling, wenching, semi-alcoholic marine sergeant, wartime hero, and peacetime bum who finds himself in Peking in 1947 and becomes involved with a wily Chinese black-marketeer named Kao. After Jake nearly kills an American brigadier general in a whorehouse fight, it is Kao who saves him from imprisonment by arranging to smuggle him out of Peking with a camel caravan. Working as a guard and camel-puller, Jake soon finds himself dealing with progression of traders, nomads, guerrillas, warlords, Japanese deserters, Chinese Communists, Chinese Nationalists, and women good and bad. Not to mention the Gobi Desert, the great snow-capped mountains of Central Asia, and even the legendary yeti or Abominable Snowman.

   Byzantine plot twists, well-drawn characters, and one of the most graphically detailed of all fictional portraits of postwar China, Mongolia, and Turkestan make this escapist entertainment of the finest sort. But it is even more than that, for Becker writes beautifully and incisively from firsthand knowledge of time and place, giving us keen social and political observations and a work of genuine literary distinction. This is a novel to be read slowly, to be savored, and then to be read again — as are the other two tities in his trilogy.

   Becker has also written two contemporary tales suspense and adventure: A Covenant with Death (1964) and Season of the Stranger (1966). Under the pseudonym of Steve Dodge, he produced a paperback original with a China setting, Shanghai Incident (1955), which was later reissued under his own name. All of these are good, but none is as rich or as memorable as the three later works.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.