An Eclectically Populated Mystery

The Jade Butterfly: A Dan Sharp Mystery, (Dundurn), 344 pages, released 3 March, 2015

After I finished The Jade Butterfly last night, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book. My experience with it was a mix of ups and downs, but it left me curious to see what the next Dan Sharp mystery will offer.

The Ups:

The Jade Butterfly is populated by a genuinely multicultural mix of characters. Seeing their interactions and the ways they build community was genuinely enjoyable.

• I love the fact that the central character, Dan Sharp, is both a gay father with primary responsibility for raising a son and a gay man who hasn’t compromised his own sexuality.

• Dan Sharpe’s best friend, Donny, a gay, black man is a well-developed character, and the thoughtful interactions between these two men ring true. The fact that Donny is now raising a former street kid, means we get not one, but two models of gay parenting.

• While the plot is a bit more spy-versus-spy than the type of mystery I typically read, it’s interesting. Most readers will find themselves surprised by the ending.

• I appreciate that the mystery centers around events at Tienanmen square, bringing the impact of that time up to the present day.

The Downs:

• The pacing of the book is uneven. Some scenes rush by quickly, some are drawn out. It’s not clear why the writer made these choices and the fluctuation doesn’t seem to serve a literary purpose.

• The prose gets turgid at points, weighed down in flourishes that detract from the action in the book. It’s as if the writer hasn’t clearly developed his own style, so is relying from time to time on exercises in analogy or structure or…. These sentences serve the purpose of being fancy sentences, but they don’t make a positive addition to the novel’s overall effect.

As I said at the start, I am curious to see where the Dan Sharp character goes. I’m also curious to see some of the secondary characters develop—not just Donny, but also Ked, Dan’s son; Kendra, the mother of Ked, a fiercely independent woman who has created an effective balance for herself between pursuing her own interests and making positive contributions to her son’s life; there’s even an inept government agent who could be developed into an interesting recurring character. If you like watching characters grow across a series, The Jade Butterfly may offer you a satisfying new experience.