Quiet Teacher by Arthur Rosenfeld
In the 2nd Xenon Pearl martial arts thriller from Mr. Rosenfeld, Xenon is presented not as the master martial artist of movie and legend, calm and reflecting inner quiet, but as a troubled human, spiraling like his art, but out of control and searching for a path, any path to self-control. A well written and sometimes disturbing look at a man on the cusp, of madness on one side and enlightenment on the other.
Beginning shortly after the end of The Cutting Season (the 1st Xenon Pearl novel), the story picks up with Dr. Pearl still banned from neurosurgery at the hospital, and trying to take care of his girlfriend Jordan (she was attacked and is now paralyzed in spite of Pearl’s surgical skills). Xenon is still fighting his inner demons, his other selves that force him to pick up his sword and right the wrongs that he sees. His cop step-sister Wanda tries to warn him off, taking him to a prison in a ‘scared straight’ sense; Jordan tries to stop him; Xenon even tries to stop himself, by seeking out new teachers to try and take the martial arts his nanny taught him (an unnamed art, with no roots given). But he cannot quell the need to ‘fix’† problems with his sword; he manages to alienate Jordan, and anger Wanda. He also finds that some of his victims from the 1st novel have a lawyer building a case against him.
Deciding that the only way to save himself is to take his martial arts to the next level, he goes in search of the Chinese immigrants who came over with his nanny, Tie Mei, who taught martial arts and Chinese medicine to Xenon, and who died protecting Xenon and his father from robbers. He tracks down Solomon Yu, former lover of Tie Mei, now a reptile keeper and seller, specializing in poisonous snakes and lizards.
In his other life, he gets reinstated to his neurosurgery job, after he and Wanda see a wreck in front of them, caused by a driver of a Porsche angered by a motorcyclists, and Xenon saves a couple of them in surgery. The Porsche is owned my the local porn king, and all four victims plan on suing him…but they start dying.
Meanwhile Jordan decides she cannot live around the maelstrom that is Xenon, with his visions of past lives and his pull to be a sword armed vigilante. She breaks up with him to work on her own recovery and spirals him down deeper.
The plots all come together in a spiral all their own, with Solomon becoming teacher and foe, Xenon discovering who killed the victims, and Solomon teaching him of a possible cure for Jordan’s paralysis and more of Tie Mei’s past.
As with his other novels, the martial arts, including the practice, the meditation, the fighting sequences, the lessons are as well written as any I have read. Rosenfeld also weaves in the medical fugues with ease, marking parallels with Xenon’s scalpel touch and sword skill.
And the characters are not at all black and white, all of them have something they are struggling with, just as we all do in life. But these characters have past lives that they struggle through as well.
Mr. Rosenfeld’s dipiction of a tortured martial artist is unique and masterfully done. Readers usually will pull for a hero, everyone wants a Disney ending. But Rosenfeld depicts a harsher reality, and the ending is stark and disturbing.
I sincerly hope this is not the end of Xenon Pearl.