... a propulsive first novel that aims to entertain ... There are some interesting ideas about identity and privilege here ... In the lulls between high-octane fight scenes, Nieh uses the gaps in Victor’s fluency to lend realism to the experience of straddling these two worlds ... The second half of Beijing Payback rushes through a few final action scenes, then slows down for a clever plot twist and a brooding ending. And it sets up a sequel, one that I very much look forward to reading.
Happily, Nieh leaves the door open for a sequel to this staccato-paced, character-driven thriller, and readers will welcome the opportunity to follow good-guy Victor’s path of retribution and self-discovery.
Nieh’s Beijing will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has spent a night out in the Chinese capital in the past 15 years ... Nieh opts for real violence rather than wuxia trickery; hard-core Beijing beatings. Beijing Payback itself morphs from murder mystery into revenge tragedy, and they’ve been a good read for centuries ... Nieh’s writing holds up as beat perfect. This is no formulaically concocted and knocked-out thriller, but a crafted piece of genre writing. What Nieh also never forgets is to maintain the plausibility of Victor’s slip from privileged San Gabriel Valley Boy to beating down Beijing gangsters. Extraordinary circumstances in extraordinary places bring out the extraordinary in people.
...crime fiction with a sympathetic heart—an emotionally layered story of murder, secrets, betrayal, and a son’s loss of innocence ... Beijing Payback is a strong debut with series potential. Victor’s personal journey is realistic — by the novel’s end he has been changed ... it will be intriguing to see where Nieh takes this character in future installments.
This is not a typical realizing-your-parents-are-flawed story, to be sure, and debut author Daniel Nieh really goes for it, packing in action, suspense, drama, plus some humor and sexiness, too. The author’s background in Chinese-English translation serves him well, as skillfully employed language throughout evokes Victor’s ties to his Chinese heritage ... [an] entertaining, colorful debut.
First-time novelist Nieh is a Chinese-English translator and widely traveled, and his Beijing scenes are gritty and scary. Some plot elements may leave readers confused, but the narrative moves briskly and the characters are well developed ... This late-coming-of-age thriller, in which Victor learns just what he is capable of doing, grabs readers early and doesn’t readily let go.
Nieh’s punchy prose places us in Victor’s sympathetic shoes as he struggles with matters out of his depth, and his emotional reckoning with his father’s true identity injects humanity into the proceedings. Nieh’s utilization of the Asian American cultural milieu also adds flavor, such as when an unknown caller uses 8s and 9s in his phone number, signifying the Chinese obsession with those numbers as harbingers of good luck ... loses its grip when the action relocates to Beijing. Aside from a few astutely observed street scenes, Nieh labors to communicate the feel of being in the gargantuan Asian metropolis. Victor is soon mired in swanky night clubs and gangster hideouts as the story’s central mystery gives way to standard thriller tropes: the fat-cat businessman, the kept mistress who becomes a love interest, the crooked cops who blackmail our hero into doing their bidding ... What was at first an understated thriller devolves into goofier, less plausible situations as Victor and Sung pass themselves off as hotshot Western gangsters, the confrontations grow ever more episodic and hyperbolic, and double-crosses accumulate. A final assault on a villain's skyscraper lair is straight out of a Hong Kong action movie, and about as realistic ... The novel rediscovers some of its footing when it returns to L.A. for a final twist and a more tempered conclusion, in which Victor’s hard-won knowledge comes with a cost. Leaving the door open for a sequel, Nieh clearly has the outlines of a grand gangster epic in his head, but the high ratio of clichés to cleverness prevents his novel from achieving full liftoff. Expect a few cultural grace notes and agreeable potboiler antics from Beijing Payback—just don't expect something truly original.
... remarkable ... The rich cast includes beautiful young courtesans, Chinese thugs, Russian gangsters, French journalists, and corrupt police in Beijing. Nieh, a Chinese-English translator, has a real gift for language ... This impressive blend of crime and coming-of-age marks Nieh as a talent to watch.
It's a perfectly decent story, but for all of the protagonist's f-bombs and a grim account of his paternal grandfather's brutal treatment in Communist labor camps, the book is too lightweight to have any emotional impact. Victor, who narrates, makes much of his life in basketball (he's a bench player on the college team whose much taller black friend Andre brings home the glory), but that adds less dimension than distraction ... Nieh's debut novel is likable enough but never as exciting as it tries to be.