By Martha Ullman West
I have had an addiction to detective stories (and coffee, I confess) since I was fourteen years old, when I read Agatha Christie late into the night, using a flashlight, in my dormitory room at the Quaker boarding school I loved.
We sometimes had interesting vespers speakers on Sunday evenings, and in my junior year Rex Stout, whose daughter was a year ahead of me, was invited to come and talk about world federalism. The author of the immensely popular Nero Wolfe series of mysteries took one look at the drowsy teenagers draped over their desks in the big study hall and decided to wake us up by telling us how to write a mystery story. There were diagrams, there were rules, there were myriad complexities to the craft.
I thought of that while I was reading Neon Panic: A Novel of Suspense (400 pages, $14,95, Vantage Point Books), by Charles Philipp Martin, a Seattle writer who lived for many years in Hong Kong, the setting for his first novel. Itâ€™s a good, well-paced, carefully plotted read, with interesting if somewhat one-dimensional characters and a fascinating mise en scene he knows well, and heâ€™s to be commended for it.