Crimes of Passion
(A Book Review of Charlson Ong’s Blue Angel, White Shadow)
Admittedly, I have had my meager share of crime fiction in my brief experience as a reader; however, this recent read feels like hitting two birds with one stone, not only by reintroducing me to the genre, but also a game changer that shuns the spate of literary books posturing as social commentary that examines the human plight in lieu of a gripping whodunit written exceptionally by a Filipino author that’ll keep the reader guessing till the end — and will certainly give Robert Ludlum a run for his money.
Indeed, Charlson Ong’s latest novel, Blue Angel, White Shadow, published the previous year by UST Publishing House, is aheady Chinese concoction with a plot thick with mystery, brewing with intrigue, and simmering with suspense that seems to seep through page after page, sets off with the murder of a twenty-five year old lounge singer, Laurice Saldiaga.
Inspector Cyrus Ledesma, a Chiniese mestizo, of the Manila Police District is then called to investigate the scene of the crime, the Blue Angel Café and Bar, and what seems to be a simple case of homicide turns out to be something much more as Ledesma steers into the thorny lives of a lackluster-whisky-drinking bar manager, a former singer herself; an aging Chinese businessman and sax player; a dyslexic piano player; a pit bull owner out for revenge; a psychic journalist; the Police Chief who happens to be Cyrus’s uncle; and the City Mayor. Each vaguely affected by the killing, each with a thinly-veiled motive to do so, each as strange and distinct as the Manila’s Chinatown locale, set at the heart of Binondo, with its exotic sights and smells.
Yet Ong doesn’t simply set out to write a suspense novel just for the heck of it. True enough, the novel has its customary twist and turns, in itself a standard fare in every piece of detective fiction, but one can see how it is handled with aplomb by an author with complete control of his material, with clear focus of the unfolding narrative. His is a no nonsense, no frills storytelling, aided by an immensely readable prose — lyrical in its exposition, at times funny, at times revealing in its character vignettes — made lively by sharp, realistic dialogue and witty exchanges.
Charlson Ong has been known for penning stories that depicts the trials and triumphs of the Chinese-Pinoy, or the Chinoy as they were often called, and Blue Angel, White Shadow is no exception and though this doesn’t take center stage in the novel’s plot, still one can just easily notice the problematic and complicated matters that inextricably tie and plague Filipino and Chinese societies. The corrupt government and police officials and the shady, illegal dealings of a dog fighting syndicate and men living in a dog-eat-dog world are merely glossed over to give way for characters in search for answers, for readers beguiled by the sweep of a compelling story.
In the end what makes Blue Angel, White Shadow a cut above the restis that it’s not just any suspenseful novel. It is a good piece of literature that has a story to tell, and that good stories, essentially, is what makes literature great as believe it so. Here now is a man with a story to tell, ready to grab you by the collar. And, suffice it to say, he delivers.
One More Page