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Noble House [Hardcover]

James Clavell
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Review

"The last time I was so taken with a spellbinding safari was when I read Gone With The Wind."—Los Angeles Times.

“Clavell’s biggest triumph yet…storytelling done with dash and panache...a rousing read.” —Washington Post

“Fiction for addicts…extravagantly romantic…a book that you can get lost in for weeks…staggering complexity…not only is it as long as life, it’s also as rich with possibilities.” —New York Times

“Tremendous entertainment…a seamless marvel of pure storytelling.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A mesmerizer…spellbinding.” —Los Angeles Times

“Breathtaking…only terms like colossal, gigantic, titanic, incredible, unbelievable, gargantuan, are properly descriptive.…Clavell has made himself the king of super-adventure thrillers.” —Chicago Tribune Book World


From the Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

The setting is Hong Kong, 1963. The action spans scarcely more than a week, but these are the days of high adventure: from kidnapping and murder to financial double-dealing and natural catastrophes -- fire, flood, and landslide. Yet they are days filled as well with all the mystery and romance of Hong Kong -- the heart of Asia -- rich in every trade... money, flesh, opium, power.

"The last time I was so taken with a spellbinding safari was when I read Gone With The Wind." -- Los Angeles Times. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

"The last time I was so taken with a spellbinding safari was when I read Gone With The Wind." -- Los Angeles Times. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

About the Author

James Clavell, who died in 1994, was a screenwriter, director, producer, and novelist born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Although he wrote the screenplays for a number of acclaimed films, including The Fly (1958), The Great Escape (1963), and To Sir With Love (1967), he is best known for his epic novels in his Asian Saga.


From the Paperback edition. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


8:45 p.m.:

The police officer was leaning against one corner of the information counter watching the tall Eurasian without watching him. He wore a light tropical suit and a police tie and white shirt, and it was hot within the brightly lit terminal building, the air humid and smell-laden, milling noisy Chinese as always. Men, women, children, babes. An abundance of Cantonese, some Asians, a few Europeans.

"Superintendent?"

One of the information girls was offering him a phone. "It's for you, sir," she said and smiled prettily, white teeth, dark hair, dark sloe eyes, lovely golden skin.

"Thanks," he said, noticing that she was Cantonese and new, and did not mind that the reality of her smile was empty, with nothing behind it but a Cantonese obscenity. "Yes?" he said into the phone.

"Superintendent Armstrong? This is the tower—Yankee 2's just landed. On time."

"Still Gate 16?"

"Yes. She'll be there in six minutes."

"Thanks." Robert Armstrong was a big man and he leaned across the counter and replaced the phone. He noticed her long legs and the curve of her rump in the sleek, just too tight, uniformed chong-sam and he wondered briefly what she would be like in bed. "What's your name?" he asked, knowing that any Chinese hated to be named to any policeman, let alone a European.

"Mona Leung, sir."

"Thank you, Mona Leung." He nodded to her, kept his pale blue eyes on her and saw a slight shiver of apprehension go through her. This pleased him. Up yours too, he thought, then turned his attention back to his prey.

The Eurasian, John Chen, was standing beside one of the exits, alone, and this surprised him. Also that he was nervous. Usually John Chen was unperturbable, but now every few moments he would glance at his watch, then up at the arrivals board, then back to his watch again.

Another minute and then we'll begin, Armstrong thought.

He began to reach into his pocket for a cigarette, then remembered that he had given up smoking two weeks ago as a birthday present to his wife, so he cursed briefly and stuck his hands deeper into his pockets.

Around the information counter harassed passengers and meeters-of-passengers rushed up and pushed and went away and came back again, loudly asking the where and when and how and why and where once more in myriad dialects. Cantonese he understood well. Shanghainese and Mandarin a little. A few Chu Chow expressions and most of their swearwords. A little Taiwanese.

He left the counter now, a head taller than most of the crowd, a big, broad-shouldered man with an easy, athletic stride, seventeen years in the Hong Kong Police Force, now head of CID—Criminal Investigation Department—of Kowloon.

"Evening, John," he said. "How're things?"

"Oh hi, Robert," John Chen said, instantly on guard, his English American-accented. "Everything's great, thanks. You?"

"Fine. Your airport contact mentioned to Immigration that you were meeting a special plane. A charter—Yankee 2."

"Yes—but it's not a charter. It's privately owned. By Lincoln Bartlett—the American millionaire."

"He's aboard?" Armstrong asked, knowing he was.

"Yes."

"With an entourage?"

"Just his Executive VP—and hatchet man."

"Mr. Bartlett's a friend?" he asked, knowing he was not.

"A guest. We hope to do business with him."

"Oh? Well, his plane's just landed. Why don't you come with me? We'll bypass all the red tape for you. It's the least we can do for the Noble House, isn't it?"

"Thanks for your trouble."

"No trouble." Armstrong led the way through a side door in the Customs barrier. Uniformed police looked up, saluting him instantly and watched John Chen thoughtfully, recognizing him at once.

"This Lincoln Bartlett," Armstrong continued with pretended geniality, "doesn't mean anything to me. Should it?"

"Not unless you were in business," John Chen said, then rushed on nervously, "He's nicknamed 'Raider'—because of his successful raids and takeovers of other companies, most times much bigger than himself. Interesting man; I met him in New York last year. His conglomerate grosses almost half a billion dollars a year. He says he started in '45 with two thousand borrowed dollars. Now he's into petrochemicals, heavy engineering, electronics, missiles—lots of U.S. Government work—foam, polyurethane foam products, fertilizers—he even has one company that makes and sells skis, sports goods. His group's Par-Con Industries. You name it, he has it."

"I thought your company owned everything already."

John Chen smiled politely. "Not in America," he said, "and it is not my company. I'm just a minor stockholder of Struan's, an employee."

"But you're a director and you're the eldest son of Noble House Chen so you'll be next compradore." By historic custom the compradore was a Chinese or Eurasian businessman who acted as the exclusive intermediary between the European trading house and the Chinese. All business went through his hands and a little of everything stuck there.

So much wealth and so much power, Armstrong thought, yet with a little luck, we can bring you down like Humpty-Dumpty and Struan's with you. Jesus Christ, he told himself, the anticipation sickly sweet, if that happens the scandal's going to blow Hong Kong apart. "You'll be compradore, like your father and grandfather and great-grandfather before you. Your great-grandfather was the first, wasn't he? Sir Gordon Chen, compradore to the great Dirk Struan who founded the Noble House and damn nearly founded Hong Kong."

"No. Dirk's compradore was a man called Chen Sheng. Sir Gordon Chen was compradore to Dirk's son, Culum Struan."

"They were half-brothers weren't they?"

"So the legend goes."

"Ah yes, legends—the stuff we feed on. Culum Struan, another legend of Hong Kong. But Sir Gordon, he's a legend too—you're lucky."

Lucky? John Chen asked himself bitterly. To be decended from an illegitimate son of a Scots pirate—an opium runner, a whoring evil genius and murderer if some of the stories are true—and a Cantonese singsong girl bought out of a filthy little cathouse that still exists in a filthy little Macao alley? To have almost everyone in Hong Kong know your lineage and to be despised for it by both races? "Not lucky," he said, trying to be outwardly calm. His hair was _gray-flecked and dark, his face Anglo-Saxon and handsome, though a little slack at the jowls, and his dark eyes only slightly Asian. He was _forty-two and wore tropicals, impeccably cut as always, with Hermes shoes and Rolex watch.

"I don't agree," Armstrong said, meaning it. "To be compradore to Struan's, the Noble House of Asia . . . that's something. Something special."

"Yes, that's special." John Chen said it flat. Ever since he could think, he had been bedeviled by his heritage. He could feel eyes watching him—him, the eldest son, the next in line—he could feel the everlasting greed and the envy. It had terrified him continuously, however much he tried to conquer the terror. He had never wanted any of the power or any of the responsibility. Only yesterday he had had another grinding row with his father, worse than ever before. "I don't want any part of Struan's!" he had shouted. "For the hundredth time I want to get the hell out of Hong Kong, I want to go back to the States, I want to lead my own life, as I want, where I want, and how I want!"

"For the thousandth time, you'll listen to me. I sent you to Am—"

"Let me run our American interests, Father. Please. There's more than enough to do! You could let me have a couple of mill—"

"Ayeeyah you will listen to me! It's here, here in Hong Kong and Asia we make our money! I sent you to school in America to prepare the family for the modern world. You are prepared, it's your duty to the fam—"

"There's Richard, Father, and young Kevin—Richard's ten times the businessman I am and chomping at the bit. What about Uncle Jam—"

"You'll do as I say! Good God, you know this American Bartlett is vital to us. We need your knowl—"

"—Uncle James or Uncle Thomas. Uncle James'd be the best for you; best for the family and the bes—"

"You're my eldest son. You're the next head of the family and the next compradore!"

"I won't be by God!"

"Then you won't get another copper cash!"

"And that won't be much of a change! We're all kept on a pittance, whatever outsiders think! What are you worth? How many millions? Fifty? Seventy? A hun—"

"Unless you apologize at once and finish with all this nonsense, finish with it once and for all, I'll cut you off right now! Right now!"

"I apologize for making you angry but I'll never change! Never!"

"I'll give you until my birthday. Eight days. Eight days to become a dutiful son. That's my last word. Unless you become obedient by my birthday I'll chop you and your line off our tree forever! Now get out!"

John Chen's stomach twisted uneasily. He hated the interminable quarreling, his father apoplectic with rage, his wife in tears, his children petrified, his stepmother and brothers and cousins all gloating, wanting him gone, all of his sisters, most of his uncles, all their wives. Envy, greed. The hell with it and them, he thought. But Father's right about B... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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