TRUSTING a criminal to track down another criminal can be as intricate as Chinese calligraphy.

In his novel, “Blue Angel, White Shadow” (UST, 2010), five-time Carlos Palanca Memorial awardee Charlson Ong’s third novel proves that suspense-thriller detective stories are still popular today as he boggles the minds of the readers with a well-wrought crime mystery.

Ong pays homage to his roots by portraying Filipino-Chinese characters. Each of them are crafted to be fully independent, yet unexpectedly interrelated with one another.

The story unfolds when lead character Cyrus Ledesma, a police officer of Chinese descent, finds Laurice Saldiaga, 25-year-old singer, dead in her room at the Blue Angel Café.

Every chapter of the novel profiles each person related to the mysterious death of Laurice. Ong flawlessly introduces each of them by exploring their life and connection to the singer, enabling the readers to infer and guess which of them could have killed Laurice.

Pointing fingers

The investigation of the woman’s death gets intertwined with Ledesma’s past and includes people far greater than what Cyrus expects.

Among the list of suspects are Antonio Cobianco, owner of the Blue Angel, who undeniably had a thing for the singer; Rosa Misa, the has-been singer and manager of the bar; Rosemarie, the daughter of Rosa Misa and a crime reporter turned lifestlyle journalist; Rey Nadurata, an illiterate piano player; Robert Cobianco, Antonio’s trigger-happy nephew; and Lagdameo Go-Lopez, the mayor of Binondo.

Each character had certain attachments with Laurice, but the fascinating weave of the story makes it hard to actually pinpoint which one of the colorful, deranged-at-their-own-level characters had done the deed.

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Growing up 'Tsinoy'

Chinese-Filipino culture is highlighted in the story from the love of native tongue, the story indulges in the splendor of Chinese customs and how it is for Tsinoys to grow up in the Philippines.

Cyrus harbors the prejudice Filipinos have against the Chinese, the likewise shows the incompetency of the police, how people who have connections can have an upper-hand over those who don’t; how people with fame and money can alter the truth and hide transgressions; and how guns can “solve” problems. Prominent debacles in the Philippine justice system portrayed in the novels make it more believable.

Though tunneling into the lives of more than a dozen characters might be confusing for some, Ong effectively maintains the story’s tension at high levels even with different minds speaking to the readers.

Despite the novel’s gritty and puzzling flow, the last two chapters are distracting and seem to be out-of-place, as if the story would have been better without them or if they were moved to prior pages.

But over all, the book keeps true to its nature—a compelling story that allows readers to experience the emotional thrill of danger and the uncertainty.

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