Victor Robert Lee
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Cono is of mixed heritage, born with a genetic anomaly that means he perceives time in a different way to other humans. It gives him incredible abilities – the ability to move so swiftly that others don’t see that he’s even moved at all. He can also detect flickers, twitches and blinks in facial expressions that help him to ascertain whether or not someone is lying to him, or whether or not they are trustworthy.
He has traveled the globe, his amazing gift for languages and his other abilities aiding in his life as a freelance spy, employed by governments and organisations to negotiate, to search and find, to do whatever it is that they need him to do. In Istanbul, Cono receives a call from the beautiful Xiao Li in Kazakhstan. They were briefly involved years ago when Cono was also in the country and they’ve loosely kept in touch ever since. Xiao Li is in trouble and requites Cono’s help to rescue her from a dangerous situation. Hours away in Turkey, Cono calls a friend in Kazakhstan to help Xiao Li and get her to safety until he can arrive.
When he gets to Almaty, Cono finds that the friend he entrusted with Xiao Li’s rescue is going to use her as leverage in order to get Cono to assist him with something. The players for Kazakhstan’s rich oil contracts are submitting bids and Cono is needed to do some deals. Along the way he discovers that there is a store of rich uranium and that someone is planning on selling it to jihadis. A Chinese player for the oil contracts would like to see him tortured and executed and Cono has inadvertently put another of his female friends in grave danger as well. It seems that there is no longer anyone trustworthy to him in Kazakhstan and he’s on his own to rescue Xiao Li and his other friend and make sure the uranium doesn’t fall into the wrong hands….and avoid being killed by the Beijing “businessman”. A little hard to do when you realise you have been double-crossed more than once.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a Top Ten Tuesday about settings I’d like to see more of in books. Once of mine was Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. I’d never read a book set wholly in any of those countries, in fact in my whole life I’ve only read one book that even touched upon any of them (Kazakhstan) and the characters were only in that country for a few pages. Well, this novel is set almost in its entirety in Kazakhstan. Other than the first few pages, when Cono is still in Istanbul, it takes place in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It’s interesting that one of the very next books I picked up off my TBR shelf after posting that TTT post happened to be set in one of the settings. Makes me wonder how many more there are out there that I don’t know about.
Performance Anomalies revolves around the oil-rich Kazakhstan area of Almaty and the fact that foreign countries are submitting bids for the contracts to drill for the oil and export it. The Chinese are major players, as are the Americans and Cono is needed to ascertain exactly what the Chinese are laying on the table. In return, his former paramour Xiao Li will not be harmed. But it doesn’t take long for Cono, with his unusual abilities, to see that things are not going exactly the way that he has been told they will. He needs to rescue Xiao Li himself when his “friend” looks like continuing to hold her against her will.
The reader needs to be on their toes for this book because quite frankly, it often reads like a series novel, a later installment and you get the feeling that you’re missing something. Names and connections are thrown out there like the reader should know who these people are and how they’re connected. Previous meetings are alluded to like they’re situations that the reader would be familiar with, that they’ve read before, in another book. But it isn’t the case – this is a debut. And things will be explained, albeit briefly and at differing times in the story. For instance, what happens to Cono’s parents and how he becomes an orphan isn’t elaborated on until very late in the book, but you get the feeling throughout that this is information that you should know. The writing is very sparse – no extra words are used, no extra time taken. You get bare bones that construct a story. It’s not what I’d describe as fast-paced, but it’s full of plenty of backstabbery, sinister Mafia types, gory fisticuffs and something entirely revolting involving a knife and someone’s ear canal.
I loved the setting – the sleazy, seedy underside of Almaty juxtaposed with the beauty of the natural landscape and the melting pot of cultures – the Russians, Chinese, Korean and Kazakhs. The author lives on the road in Central Asia and has a beautiful amount of pictures on his website (which you can see here) so it seems he is very familiar with the setting of this book. The part where he describes Khan Tengri (where the borders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China meet) is truly amazing. That is what I want to read more of – these places that I know nothing about, that are part of a hidden beauty that most Western people will never get to experience.
I have to admit, it took me some time to warm up to the character of Cono, who comes across as hard to connect with, and also the author’s writing style. But once I got used to it, I ended up enjoying this book. I hope Lee writes more from this area, because I think I’d enjoy subsequent novels more because now I’m more used to way in which he tells a story.
Book #30 of 2013