We gave it a C+
FRAGRANT HARBOR John Lanchester (Putnam, $25.95) Lanchester’s thoughtful, frustrating novel follows adventure-starved Englishman Tom Stewart as he heads to Hong Kong in 1935. He learns Chinese from a missionary nun and makes his way in a climate of corruption and under the threat (and eventual reality) of war. Lanchester, a gifted writer who grew up in Hong Kong, knows the landscape and culture. But despite some well-plotted episodes, the outline of his story is often more compelling than the way he tells it: While Tom is recruited as a kind of spy when the Japanese invade during World War II, for instance, his espionage doesn’t amount to much. And the author maddeningly withholds one key detail with far-reaching consequences just to pack a bigger surprise in the final chapters.