This mystery/thriller carries an extra electrical charge given the Covid 19 pandemic. The Red Lotus jumps between contemporary Vietnam and New York City, following the story of Alexis Sinclair, an emergency room doctor, and her newfound love Austin Harper, who works in the hospital’s promotion department. They meet when Austin is brought to the emergency ward after being shot in the arm in a bar. As the relationship grows, Austin wants to take Alexis with him to Vietnam, ostensibly for a group bike tour and to pay his respects at the memorial site of an uncle who died in the Vietnam war and to his own father, who was injured in the war but survived.
Several days into the trip Austin decides to do these memorial visits on his own. After setting out solo, Austin fails to return to the group at the hotel when expected. His body is found the next day, seemingly sideswiped by a truck along a narrow stretch of highway. The only other telltale trace of what happened is some energy gel pills found on the road. When Alexis identifies the body, she senses that not all is as it seems.
Alexis begins the process of trying to find out what happened, uncovering a story that takes her into the world of the lethal defoliant Agent Orange and the “super rats” that it produced, uncovering the suggestion that lethal pathogens could be unloosed on the world population should they fall into the wrong hands. She hires Ken Sarafian, a retired NYPD Detective as her private investigator and together they unravel the mystery, moving it steadily into the light. The Red Lotus is an appropriate title, as legend has it that the red lotus sinks into the water as the sun sets and rises again each morning, a resurrection symbol that underpins the novel.
The mystery/thriller genre is not a common one for Bohjalian, but the story line draws readers in, aided no doubt, by the current Coronavirus pandemic and the conspiracy theory speculations that continue to swirl around it. A good summer read for these strange times. (Penguin Random House)