Study Guide

Obedience

by Joseph Hansen

Obedience Essay - Critical Essays

Obedience

Dave Brandstetter is trying to retire and spend his remaining years happily not being shot, stabbed, or drowned. When Tracy Davis of the Public Defender’s office approaches him with a case, however, he weakens. The arrested man is Tracy’s mouthy and obnoxious half-brother Andy. The man he is supposed to have killed, a wealthy Vietnamese named Le Van Minh, was about to sell the dilapidated marina where Andy lives to developers, leaving Andy and ninety other people without an affordable mooring. Andy lost an arm in Vietnam, and his hatred for all Vietnamese is widely known. It looks like an open-and-shut case.

The deeper Brandstetter digs into the case, however, the stranger it becomes. Several months before Le’s murder, four other influential Vietnamese had been gunned down in a restaurant. Coincidence? Dave does not think so, because a street mime who saw both killings says the killers are the same men. Dave manages to get the mime out of town before he can be silenced, but there are still too many loose ends. Who was the beautiful woman crying openly at Le’s funeral? Why won’t Le Tran Hai, Le’s son and supposedly an honest man, admit that his second in command was killed trying to murder Dave? Just what is the Le import-export business really importing? Why does underworld figure Don Pham, a gambling, prostitution, and drug kingpin, go to considerable lengths to absolve himself of Le’s murder and “motivate” Dave to find the real killer?

The traditional Vietnamese values of family obedience and “saving face” collide hard with Dave’s dogged search for the truth. When he finds it, it nearly costs him his life. As in previous Brandstetter mysteries, Dave’s homosexuality is never sensationalized or overplayed; rather, it is handled as a “given” almost incidental to the plot. A fine installment in an unusual and very well-written series.