Picks and Pans Review: Opium

updated 08/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Tony Cohan

Settle down, suspend your disbelief and read: It's the early 1960s and the U.S. is getting deeper into Vietnam. Jim Cross, a California medical student, is in Paris, searching for the meaning of life. He gets into a jam and winds up as a drug courier. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, a beautiful Eurasian named Su Lin is home from California for her father's 70th birthday. When he is murdered, Su Lin and her brother, a Harvard-trained lawyer, are supposed to take over the family business—the opium trade. Among the cast of characters here is one of every sort of person known to frequent this kind of adventure yarn. There's a Corsican dwarf, a treacherous one-armed mandarin, an American drunk, a Mafia chieftain, a corrupt British banker, an opium-addicted scholar—the types of villains who used to be played in movies by Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Claude Rains. Cohan, a California author of four other novels, handles his complex plot and clichéd characters with professional slickness. A scene in which the opium addict describes what the drug is like is frighteningly convincing. For those who like their pop fiction big (455 pages), fast-paced, racy and hypnotic, Opium is a fancy, first-class job. With so much violence it takes a typhoon to give this book a suitable bang at the end, so Cohan gets his people together in Hong Kong and lets them fight it out during the wildest storm ever. Readers who liked James Clavell's novel Noble House will find Opium exciting, too. (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)

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