Book Review: The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

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Publish Date: March 17, 2020

“Rats are badass little monsters.” — The Red Lotus

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The first time Alexis saw Austin, it was a Saturday night. Not in a bar, but in the emergency room where Alexis sutured a bullet wound in Austin’s arm. Six months later, on the brink of falling in love, they travel to Vietnam on a bike tour so that Austin can show her his passion for cycling and he can pay his respects to the place where his father and uncle fought in the war. But as Alexis sips white wine and waits at the hotel for him to return from his solo ride, two men emerge from the tall grass and Austin vanishes into thin air. The only clue he leaves behind is a bright yellow energy gel dropped on the road. As Alexis grapples with this bewildering loss, and deals with the FBI, Austin’s prickly family, and her colleagues at the hospital, Alexis uncovers a series of strange lies that force her to wonder: Where did Austin go? Why did he really bring her to Vietnam? And how much danger has he left her in?

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Chris Bohjalian’s last book, The Flight Attendant, was really good and I am very excited about the opportunity to preview this book.

Alexis Remnick, ER doctor, and her boyfriend, Austin Harper, are on a relaxing and fun biking trip in Vietnam. Austin disappears mid-trip and is later found dead under suspicious circumstances. Alexis goes on a quest to find out what really happened to Austin, setting off a trigger of events that change her life forever.

As with all of his other books, author Chris Bohjalian does a lot of research before he develops a story. The careful research reflects in his writing and I always end up learning fun facts about a bunch of new topics. And, his style of writing keeps me engaged no matter the subject.

I love the way Bohjalian describes Vietnam. I’ve never been there, but the description of the beautiful countryside in Vietnam and the Vietnamese people made it a vivid place for me. There were many references to the Vietnam war, and the impacts to the country which I found fascinating.

The plot is layered and complex but a bit of a slow burn, so I had to read carefully to catch all of the clues. It’s chock-full of science and I learned many new things about rats, the evolution of rats in different regions, and biological weapons. I learned the history of rats and why they are used for research. This topic is very relevant given today’s current events and how quickly transmittable diseases/viruses can be spread.

The characters are very well developed and the POVs switch around so that you really get to know them. There is Alexis, the ER doctor and main character; Ken the Private Detective; Alexis’ mom the widow; and Ellie, her vet best friend. Rats are also a central character that was explored in great detail.

My favorite quotes:

Sometimes, the ER was a museum of the monstrous and the macabre.”

“What is it that you express with your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print that I have read in my life.”

“I wouldn’t mind a dragon watching over my soul. I could probably use one.”

“What do you do with the dress of a dead woman your dead boyfriend brought for another woman before she was murdered?”

“Sometimes you have to accept the fact that it’s either someone else’s responsibility now or you’ve done all you can. You do nothing. You wait.”

This book is about secrets, betrayal, loss, cycling, the plague, self-harm, espionage, greed, murder, and the history of rats. It’s not a fast-paced thriller but a slow burn that builds up to an ending that reveals everything and ties the story together in ways that I didn’t expect.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars 3 Stars

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley exchange for an honest review.

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