John Gordon Davis. Typhoon. London: Joseph, 1978.

John Gordon Davis’s Typhoon has a story-line and many of the features typical of the Hong Kong adventure novel. An ex-Hong Kong policeman, Jake McAdam is an inventor-entrepreneur whose latest venture is the building of concrete boats. He also owns a magazine, The Oriental Israelite, edited by a seasoned journalist, the colourfully named Whacker Ball. McAdam is a man about town with a keen eye on the ladies in the American mess. When he meets the mess’s latest arrival, the blonde and curvaceous journalist Vanessa Storm Williams, he is immediately smitten. She reciprocates and before long, the two are making passionate love in his apartment in mid-levels Hong Kong. These intimacies are represented graphically and at regular intervals in the novel.

Like any hero and heroine worth his/her name, McAdam and Williams each has a secret past. He appears to have been a double agent for the British in mainland China during which he seems to have fallen treacherously in love with a Chinese woman agent called Ying. What he was doing for the British, how the romance happened, and who is Ying – there are hints and knowing references to all three in the novel but none of it is ever made clear. To find out about this, the reader will need to read Davis’s earlier novel, The Year of the Hungry Tiger. This is not very satisfactory since Typhoon  is published as a standalone novel, and should enable the reader to read it as such.

Vanessa finds out about Ying – or rather, she sees McAdam’s paintings of Ying in his apartment. Though the discovery dampens her romantic ardour somewhat, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on their love-making. They also seem to find time to support good causes like Friends of the Earth.  Vanessa has another devoted admirer, a HK police superintendent called Bernard Champion who is also a friend of McAdam’s. In the sub-plot, Champion turns out to be a policeman on the take, paid for by none other than Choi.

The “big picture” is also very familiar: Chinese triads directed by the “black-hand” of the recently knighted Sir Herman Choi is muscling in on the east-west drug trade formerly dominated by the mafia.  Vanessa wants to expose Choi in the name of righteousness; her wish may or may not be related to her secret -  that she is the grand-daughter of a New York mafia boss who never acknowledged their relation but kept a paternal eye on her until his assassination by chopper-wielding Chinese triads in front of her very eyes. Choi finally agrees to an interview with Vanessa but when she questions him about his triad connections, an incensed Choi decides to send a hired killer after her.

Half way through the novel, the action picks up when the characters and their desultory entanglements are displaced by the ominous approach of typhoon Rose, a mega-wrecker who is the true “heroine” of the novel. Davis’s descriptions of Hong Kong in the days before Rose’s arrival and the total havoc when she passes through provide some of the best passages in the novel. The rescue of people trapped in a highrise building as Rose rampages overhead is worthy of some of the best disaster movies.

Rose also resolves a number of the problems in the novel’s human plot. The building in which McAdams lives topples over carried down by the weight of a shoddy Herman Choi development above it. McAdams survives but Vanessa dies after a rather excruciating serach and rescue led by Champion. This has a very realistic twist for readers who know what happened in Hong Kong in 1972 when buildings on a mid-levels hillslope fell down on top of each other during a landslide. Davies does manage to convey some of the horror of that event. For readers who don’t know, this is brought to life with “disaster-movie” vividness.  The novel ends with McAdams shooting Choi in revenge, and surrendering over the phone to the Hong Kong police. (EH)



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