In The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian, Alexis and Austin, her boyfriend of seven months, are in Vietnam on a bike tour. Austin has broken away from the group for the day on a solo ride to visit the locations where his dad was wounded and his uncle killed in the Vietnam War. As his expected return time approaches and then passes and she’s unable to reach Austin on his phone, Alexis begins to panic.
In the wake of Austin’s disappearance, Alexis learns that his fun-loving, considerate façade covered a storm of secrecy and lies. Driven to learn why he deceived her, when she returns to New York City, she embarks on a campaign to discover why he really took her to Vietnam and what led him to engage in such duplicitous behavior. As she gets closer to the truth, her trust in others is tested and her safety and the safety of those around her becomes ever more perilous.
The book slowly introduces the characters—all of whom seem like they could be allies to Alexis or just as easily betray her—and the stakes of Austin’s trip to Vietnam. Along the way, Bohjalian places small clues that create major tension: I kept wondering if and when they would affect the characters. Because investigations were simultaneously operating in the United States and Vietnam, there was the added stress of worrying about how important knowledge might, if at all, transfer. Once the anxiety was fully amplified, the action in the novel accelerated to a satisfying yet emotional conclusion. I might have cried.
The novel is very timely—Bohjalian researched viruses, vaccines, and pathogens for it. In Alexis, he’s crafted another strong, determined yet flawed female protagonist, but I loved Ken, the private investigator, as much or more. Plus, there is a small but important pug cameo!
Bohjalian fans won’t want to miss this book. It’s also a great choice for fans of amateur sleuths, pandemic fiction, and medical thrillers. There’s also an underlying theme regarding the Vietnam War.
The Red Lotus goes on sale March 17. Look for it at your favorite bookstore!
Thank you to Doubleday Books for providing me with an advance reading copy of The Red Lotus!