“Chinese Cooking for Diamond Thieves” by Dave Lowry (Mariner Books, 288 pages, in stores)
Dave Lowry is a restaurant critic with a keen eye for detail, and his passion for food is evident throughout his fiction debut, “Chinese Cooking For Diamond Thieves.”
Feeling out of sorts and as if he’s on the wrong life path, Tucker drops out of college and embarks on a road trip from New England to St. Louis. His passion is cooking — particularly Chinese food — and he’s hoping an old friend in St. Louis can help him get a job.
At a rest stop along the way, he overhears a stranded traveler speaking Mandarin into her phone. He’s picked up some of the language from working in Chinese restaurants, so he strikes up a conversation with her. They verbally dance for a while, each trying to figure out what angle the other is working, and then she accepts his proffered ride to her destination of Buffalo, N.Y.
It’s a long trip, and they spend a night at his parents’ house to rest and refresh. While she — Corrine — takes a shower, her phone rings incessantly. Tucker finally answers it, and what he hears on the other end is both cryptic and confusing. He hangs up and deletes the call, not wanting Corrine to know that he had been snooping.
Back on the road, he learns a little more about her. She works for a diamond distributor in Canada and is taking some time off to visit some friends in the states. He recalls what he heard on her phone the previous night and momentarily wonders if she’s being completely above-board, but he lets it pass. He finds himself somewhat smitten, and when he drops her off in Buffalo, he gives her his phone number and tells her to call if she ever needs anything.
As he's leaving, he’s accosted on the sidewalk outside of her apartment building by a Chinese man asking about someone named Wenqian. Tucker thinks it’s simply a pretext for a robbery, so he acts first and punches the man in the chest. As the man stumbles away, he says something just as odd as what Tucker had heard on Corrine's phone.
Tucker makes it to St. Louis, lands a job in a Chinese restaurant, and settles into his post-college life. One day he receives a call from Corrine — would he be willing to pick her up in Buffalo and bring her to St. Louis? She doesn’t really give him a solid answer as to why, and he wonders if the nervousness he hears in her voice is just his imagination. Still, he agrees and takes a few days off from work to pick her up. On the way back, they get to know each other better and even do a bit of sight-seeing.
The story thus far is basically a boy-meets-girl tale, but once Corrine gets to St. Louis, it branches out into more adventurous territory. What happened with Corrine in Canada? Why does the FBI come calling? Who is Wenqian? Is Corrine on the run? Is Tucker in danger because of his association with her?
While not a hard-core or overly complicated caper novel, “Chinese Cooking For Diamond Thieves” is an entertaining read with a satisfying — if not completely unexpected — ending, and a perfect read for a lazy late summer day.
— Jim Basile, for The Oklahoman