Thayer, James. (2002). Gold Swan. New York: Simon and Schuster.

An internal power struggle in the Chinese Communist Party manifests itself in an elaborate plan to sabotage the world’s tallest building, the Gold Swan, in Hong Kong’s  Victoria Harbour. A typical thriller story, Gold Swan looks at China’s modernization through the commonplace perspective of a tightly controlled, police-state attempting to promote a liberal, modern façade to the world. Hong Kong, as in many thriller texts, becomes the staging ground of China’s contact with  the world, but it is also portrayed as a place where global political and intelligence/espionage interests converge.

The China Fifth Millennium Tower, or the Gold Swan as it is popularly known due to its unique curved shape and golden colour, is the brainchild of John Llewellyn—an egotistical British architect for whom this project becomes a career defining achievement and, in the end, his nemesis . Llewellyn is handpicked by Chinese Premier Chen, a personal friend, to build a showpiece to proclaim China’s modernity to the world. Standing some two thousand feet high, it rivals Victoria Peak in height and is the tallest building in the world by a comfortable margin.

A series of celebrations is planned for the Gold Swan’s inauguration with political leaders and dignitaries from across the world invited. However as the date nears, the seemingly unrelated death of the father of Clay Williams, the senior security advisor of the building, leads to a series of revelations which end in catastrophe. Williams Senior’s death is dismissed as suicide by the Hong Kong police but Williams,  with his FBI training, decides to investigate. He discovers that his father had been killed because he witnessed the kidnapping of a teenager who had  built an amateur laser distance measuring device which shows the Gold Swan has begun to lean.

The teenager is the grandson of Wen Quichin, the head of one of Hong Kong’s most powerful triads. Wen approaches Williams and suggests that the two of them work together to find his grandson’s kidnappers and thereby avenge Williams’father’s death as well. Williams reluctantly agrees, and their combined investigations ultimately lead to the discovery of a plot to sabotage the Gold Swan. Williams makes this discovery along with Anne Iverston, Llewellyn’s deputy and lover.

Williams and Iverston discover that the soil compaction data for the man-made island on which the building is constructed has been deliberately falsified. Once the skyscraper is complete, the ground begins to subside. The compaction data has been falsified by a software company owned by China’s Minister of Security who is trying  to wrest power from Premier Chen. Chenm fearful of the scandal and loss of face, attempts to silence anyone with knowledge of the building’s terminal flaw, which is why the triad head’s grandson is kidnapped.

The story reaches a climax when Premier Chen unleashes the People’s Liberation Army on Hong Kong in a massive sweep of arrests to contain the scandal while work crews desperately try to stabilize the building. However the building ultimately collapses with Llewellyn choosing to die with his creation. The Premier is deposed and the Security Minister is arrested and a new Premier comes into power. Williams also discovers that the CIA had known about the building’s stability problem and the conspiracy behind it but had not intervened, choosing to see it as a purely Chinese issue. (HR)


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