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Over the Shoulder: A Novel of Intrigue [Hardcover]

Leonard Chang
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 25 2001

A hybrid of crime and literary novel that explores issues of honor and family history, Over The Shoulder offers a unique view of the American protagonist and reluctant investigator, shaken from the doldrums of his insulated life.

Choice and his partner, Paul Baumgartner, are security specialists for Silicon Valley executives. When Paul gets killed on the job, Choice and an inexperienced Bay Area reporter, Linda Maldonado, begin looking into the puzzling circumstances of the murder. As they work together to unravel the intricate threads of lies and half-truths, they discover that his death might be linked to an older, more personal one -- the mysterious death of Allen's father some twenty years earlier.

With his self-described "philosophy of removement" as his frame of reference, Choice searches for the hidden, long-buried answers, only to be outmaneuvered at every juncture. Against this backdrop of violence and deception, Choice soon discovers secrets that alter his understanding of his father, of his family -- secrets that lead him to a buried history of betrayal.

A new direction for noir fiction, Over the Shoulder is an examination of the past and the present, of long-simmering familiar tensions and the subtle conflicts of race and class; it is a story about the awakening of memories and an understanding of the self.

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From Amazon

"That I am a nobody doesn't bother me as it might some people. I prefer anonymity, unobstructed movement through a crowd with neither a first nor a second glance in my direction." Anonymity is both existential goal and survival skill for Allen Choice, who may call himself a Korean-American but who isn't particularly comfortable with the label. A Silicon Valley security specialist (don't call him a bodyguard), Choice drifts through life the way he drifts through crowds: detached, isolated, neither particularly fulfilled nor particularly unhappy. He notes wryly, "I used to think I was in inertial rest, a body at rest remaining so. Once an outside force applied itself to me, I would be in motion. I liked this idea. It freed me, relieving me of the responsibility. I just had to wait for an outside force. But I soon realized this was an illusion... I decided to call it the inertial deception. I can't succumb to it."

But in Over the Shoulder, Leonard Chang's brooding neo-noir novel, circumstances conspire to administer an outside force of momentous proportions when Paul Baumgartner, Choice's partner, is killed in front of him. Paul's family, his employers, and the police all assume the hit was directed at the executive the pair were protecting. But Linda Maldonado, a reporter looking for a hot story to catapult her from the thigh cream comparisons and doggy-daycare features of the Lifestyles pages, hectors Choice into investigating Paul's death.

His investigation is quickly fractured by treachery and deception, as he uncovers strange links between Paul's death and that of his own father, an immigrant who died in a warehouse accident when Choice was 8. Elegantly captured in Chang's restrained prose, secrets and memories rise slowly to the surface, forcing Choice to confront both the long-hidden scars of familial bitterness and the poignancy of his father's quest to preserve his dreams of a medical career, even as he succumbed to the exhausting drudgery of physical labor.

Chang's first two novels, The Fruit 'N Food and Dispatches from the Cold, garnered praise for their starkly realistic portrayal of racial tension and quotidian ennui. Over the Shoulder, though leavened with a touch of dry humor, doesn't pull any punches either, as Chang lays bare his protagonist's frailties and fantasies. --Kelly Flynn

From Publishers Weekly

Despite the bang with which it starts, this is no action thriller rocketing along; instead it's a tortuous journey of discovery by its Korean-American protagonist and narrator, Allen Choice. Separated from his family by death and alienation, Choice is a loner and somewhat of a cipherAa 30-ish bachelor, a college dropout, a bodyguard for a private protection service. Everything changes when his partner, Paul Baumgartner, is shot dead while they're on a routine job babysitting a Silicon Valley executive. Choice's introspective, ruminative natureAhis "dis-ease" as he describes itAis shaken by this murder and by the Kafkaesque events that follow. Nudged by an aggressive reporter, Linda Maldonado, Choice begins to consider various possibilitiesAthat Paul, not their client, was the targetAor even that he himself was the intended victim. Choice finds his investigation anticipated or derailed at every turn, sometimes violently, sometimes more subtly, but inevitably forcing him to learn more about his heritage and his past, including the death of his father when he was only 10. Chang's intricately constructed plot moves easily from the minutiae of protecting a client to the cultural rootlessness affecting his hero. Choice's dual journeyAof self-discovery and the uncovering of his partner's killerAmakes for an absorbing blend of literary novel and crime thriller. (Feb.) Forecast: Chang's first two novels drew critical acclaim upon their publication by Black Heron; the second, Dispatches from the Cold, has been optioned for film. With the greater marketing muscle of HarperCollins behind himAincluding a four-city author tourAChang could break out with this title, especially if the option translates into a feature film.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Mystery and a Sweet Romance Aug. 18 2003
The title might lead one to expect a spy novel, but this is the debut of Allen Choice, a Korean-American security specialist who becomes something of a reluctant private eye, as he investigates the drive-by slaying of his partner, Paul Baumgartner. Paul is killed in what at first looks like a hit on one of their corporate clients, but as Allen digs into the mystery, he begins to realize that Paul was doing a bit of moonlighting and that one of his clients might be behind the killing. Also, his investigation leads Allen to the events surrounding his own father's "accidental" death twenty years before.
This was a great book, with Allen's introspective, lonely thoughts at the forefront. There's a lot about what it means to be different or "other" in America, as well as Allen's personal alienation (he was brought up by an aunt who viewed him as a nuisance) and his own personal emptiness at the heart of the book. Other than his job, he doesn't have much going on in his life and when his investigation threatens his employment, things don't look good for Allen.
Luckily, he has the help of an inexperienced, lifestyles reporter, Linda Maldonado, in unraveling the mystery. Besides offering a compelling mystery, this book also features a sweet, unexpected, slowly-developing romance between the two (the clueless Allen doesn't realize why Linda is going out her way, risking her life and career to help him, until almost the very end). An excellent mystery debut and I'm strongly looking forward to the second book in this series, _Underkill_.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A strong thriller with other issues. March 15 2001
By A Customer
With the overtones of Greek Tragedy, the themes of the sins of the father reaching the son, OVER THE SHOULDER takes a lyrical and heartfelt view of what happens when the son begins learning about his father, whom he never really knew. Occasionally overeaching with respect to the pseudo-existential musings of Choice, Chang (Choice/Chang? Choice=Sartre?) delves into the world of bodyguards and hidden secrets, of guarding the body of truth, of the "choice" of the past and the "choice" of the guard. We can read this novel on a few different levels, the easiest being the thriller elements, the more complicated being the issues of race and family legacies, of the disjunction between generations and how the past interferes with the relationships of the present. I was reminded of Walker Percy since the elements of the Search (Percy's term), congregation, and connection are all present. With Percy, in the Moviegoer, we have movie culture as a frame with which to view Binx's relationship with the world, whereas in Over the Shoulder we have the world of security protection (protect Allen's security, his blanket of armor) as the frame. I'm afraid most serious readers might avoid this novel for its lurid cover (What is a novel of "intrigue"? When is a good novel not "intriguing"?), but for those interested in a complex and complicated story with thematic elements echoing Sophocles, all layered with a very well-written mystery, you might try this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Blown Away Feb. 7 2001
By A Customer
This absolutely terrific novel totally subverted my expectations of what an "Asian American" or crime novel ought to be. It's engrossing, fast-paced and intriguing in ways that you won't expect. The crime format provides Chang an opportunity to explore race, class and family without being bogged down by the weight of those issues. And Chang fleshes out Allen's character and touches upon racial issues without ever derailing the fast-paced storyline. And yet, at the same time, this is NOT simply a crime novel, either. It's a blend of both--something really innovative and different.
Don't be put-off because Chang has the courage to move away from stock issues played out by other KA writers. While some people think that Chang Rae Lee is be the best KA writer out there, let it be said: Leonard Chang is BETTER than Chang Rae Lee. In fact, he's a better fiction writer than most of the Asian American writers out there as well. Beacuse he's a WRITER'S writer, i.e. he cares about his craft and not about selling out to mainstream tastes of what an Asian American novel should be. Of course, because he doesn't write about KAs whose mothers happen to be comfort women, intergenerational conflict or "honor killings," Chang will be somewhat underrated and underappreciated by those who prefer sappy melodramas about Asian Americans. Which is a shame because he's one of the most talented and interesting writers to ever come out of Korean America. Read Over the Shoulder. It's truly an immensely enjoyable and exciting novel that will be sure to blow you away.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I liked this cool departure. Feb. 7 2001
By A Customer
I've read Mr. Chang's other two novels (one for an Asian-American lit class, another on my own), and was really surprised to see him try this kind of novel. It's a thriller and love-story and it's so different from his other works. I really liked it. At first I was confused, not even sure it was the same author, but then I saw the same kinds of themes he handles, like dealing with past secrets and people being lonely and isolated. I also saw him turning up the plot elements, which was fun. I think most people will like this novel a lot, because it's exciting, and also looks deep into what it means to be alone in the world. I guess I kind of fell for Allen Choice.
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