Publisher: Titan Books (Trade Paperback – 19 January 2022)
Series: Standalone/Book One
Length: 433 pages
My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
One of the most unique reads by an Australian in 2022 had to be the action-packed and deeply compelling cyberpunk thriller, 36 Streets by new-to-me author T. R. Napper.
Altered Carbon and The Wind-Up Girl meet Apocalypse Now in this fast-paced, intelligent, action-driven cyberpunk, probing questions of memory, identity and the power of narratives.
Lin ‘The Silent One’ Vu is a gangster and sometime private investigator living in Chinese-occupied Hanoi, in the steaming, paranoid alleyways of the 36 Streets. Born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, everywhere she is an outsider.
Through grit and courage Lin has carved a place for herself in the Vietnamese underworld where Hanoi’s crime boss, Bao Nguyen, is training her to fight and lead. Bao drives her hard; on the streets there are no second chances. Meanwhile the people of Hanoi are succumbing to Fat Victory – a dangerously addictive immersive simulation of the US-Vietnam war.
When an Englishman comes to Hanoi on the trail of his friend’s murderer, Lin’s life is turned upside down. She is drawn into the grand conspiracies of the neon gods – of regimes and mega-corporations – as they unleash dangerous new technologies.
Lin must confront the immutable moral calculus of unjust wars. She must choose: family, country, or gang. Blood, truth, or redemption. No choice is easy on the 36 Streets.
36 Streets was a particularly unique and ultra-exciting novel that tells a powerful and memorable story of intrigue, conspiracy and the various families you make in life. Set in a futuristic Hanoi in the midst of a Chinese occupation, 36 Streets begins as a cyberpunk gangster tale following Lin Vu, a deadly enforcer and fighter for a Vietnamese street gang. Raised in Australia before being deported to Vietnam, Lin is a damaged and angry figure who has found purpose as an ultra-violent gang member, and is somewhat content with her current life of drinking, drugs and womanising. However, her latest job for a mysterious English executive leads her and her gang into the middle of a dark conspiracy that could influence the entirety of Vietnam and which pits her against a deadly rival gang, the Chinese government, and a corrupt corporation.
Napper tells a fast-paced and compelling story in 36 Streets, and I was constantly intrigued where the plot was going, especially as the author blends interesting character work, futuristic cyberpunk elements and an intense conspiracy storyline to create a great overall read. Lin’s attempt to find answers and discover the full and terrible truth of the events she has been dragged into serves as an outstanding base to the story, and the author throws in some great twists and swerves as the story continues. Brutal and sharp action scenes are interspersed with a compelling street-based investigation, as well as fascinating showcases of the cool cyberpunk technology, including a trippy video game that shows an alternate version of the Vietnam War, all of which creates a distinctive and dark overarching tone for the book, which I felt matched the compelling conspiracy story extremely well. Napper further adds to intensity of the plot by diving into his complex protagonist’s past, which includes unique family dynamics, rejection from every country she has ever lived in, and some of the most brutal training sequences you are ever likely to find in a fiction novel. Everything comes together in a shocking and bloody conclusion, which leaves the reader satisfied, saddened, and wanting more.
There are so many great elements to this book that I could talk about, but a true highlight of 36 Streets is Napper’s intriguing examination and portrayal of the soul and culture of Vietnam, as well as the beautiful historic city of Hanoi. The intrepidness and distinctive personality of the Vietnamese people are on full display throughout the entirety of 36 Streets’ story, and the author spends substantial time exploring the history and culture of Vietnam through his complex characters. This dive into the Vietnamese people and their mindset, actually becomes a key and intriguing part of the book’s overall plot, and I loved how the conspiracy that Lin is investigating ties into elements of the Vietnam War and country’s inbuilt ability to resist. I was also quite impressed with Napper’s outstanding portrayal of his version of Hanoi, especially as he perfectly blended the new cyberpunk elements of his story with the distinctive historical elements and culture of the city that exists today. Another intriguing setting element he included was the fictional future Chinese invasion and occupation of Hanoi and greater Vietnam, especially as it results in a second Vietnamese War, with a new Vietcong now fighting and beating the Chinese from the other side of the country. All of these outstanding elements, including the unique futuristic setting and the powerful examinations of Vietnam and its people, add a memorable impact to the larger story, and I felt that this book benefited greatly from Napper highlighting the Vietnamese people in this way.
I honestly was not sure how 36 Streets was going to turn out when I initially started reading it. However, after enjoying everything about its cool story, fantastic insights and brilliant character work, I have to say that this was a pretty amazing read and one that I am very glad I grabbed a copy of. Australian author T. R. Napper has created something very impressive with 36 Streets and I cannot emphasise what a powerful and compelling book this turned out to be, especially with its Vietnamese setting and fantastic cyberpunk inclusions. Highly recommended!