Gail, Sandy. (1981). Chasing the Dragon. London: William Collins & Sons.

Chasing the Dragon is a typical cold war thriller with most of the action taking place in Indochina and Hong Kong in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. Playfair, a Hong Kong based British journalist, becomes entangled in an elaborate CIA plot to thwart heroin smuggling originating from Vietnam. On a professional visit to Beijing, Playfair reluctantly agrees to carry a seemingly innocuous message from a Hong Kong businessman, Blenheim, to a former Chinese Air Force official named Ling. Ling, a top advisor during Mao’s regime, is suspected of being a Russian double agent, and Playfair finds himself helping Ling to ‘defect’ and illegally cross over to Hong Kong.

Following this, Blenheim makes a proposal to Playfair to be part of a heroin deal that would earn him a million dollars. The deal in reality is a CIA plan to destabilize heroin production in Vietnam which is a major source of narcotics to the US. The Russians support heroin production and export through Vietnam because it indirectly helps destabilize the US. A rogue Chinese general named Wong operating on the Vietnam-Laos border is the major producer, and the plan is for Blenheim along with Lin and a few others to pose as heroin dealers and purchase Wong’s entire stock and hand it over to the CIA. In turn the CIA is willing to pay the full street value to Wong with a generous share to Blenheim. China is also willing to help because it buys off Wong and also because of its antagonism against  Russia.

Things are further complicated  when a Macau-based Triad figure called Yang kidnaps Ling. Playfair discovers that his beautiful Vietnamese lover Marie-Louise was originally one of Yang’s agents but has genuinely fallen in love with him. Yang has learned of the deal and wants the heroin for himself. Playfair with the help of Blenheim’s tough man Huang save Ling from Yang but in doing so kills two of Yang’s men. Marie-Louise also proves to be highly skilled in martial arts, and the readers discover that Playfair too has remarkable martial skills.  

 Eventually Playfair along with Marie Louise, Hammond (a former CIA man) and two others set off to meet Wong. The deal is made but while flying out with the heroin, they are intercepted by Vietnamese fighter jets and are forced to land in Saigon. Hammond discovers an old Vietnamese military friend in Saigon who helps them escape. Playfair is forced to abandon Hammond as they escape Saigon because Hammond becomes obsessed with delivering the heroin to the CIA and endangers their personal safety. Their second aircraft also breaks down but they manage to make it as far as the Parcel Islands in the South China Sea.

They are eventually picked up by Blenheim aboard a sea-going junk but upon reaching Hong Kong waters they are accosted by Yang. In the ensuing struggle Yang is killed and the Hong Kong Police appears on the scene. Everyone including Playfair is arrested but later released. Playfair then discovers that Blenheim had been carrying out the deal alone and that the CIA had abandoned the original plan because Blenheim wanted a massive amount of money. In the end the heroin haul is burnt by the Hong Kong Police.

Hong Kong figures in the narrative as a staging ground for international espionage and political interests. The usual triad-related discourse of criminality is figured through Yang. Yang is also presented as a man whose “Chinese” cultural makeup drives him towards relentlessly extracting revenge which a presumably more pragmatic gangster would not do. But the presentation of Ling, the other major Chinese male character is largely neutral—similar to the political defectors found in much of thriller fiction. Marie-Louise is an ideal male fantasy—sensuous and  has a kind of slavish ‘oriental’ devotion to Playfair but at the same time tough on Playfair’s enemies. (HR)



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