Book Review: “The Hainan Incident” by DM Coffman (2011)

I was drawn to this book initially, because I’ve got a bit of history with Hainan Island, the so-called “Hawaii of China” located just below the mainland in the South China Sea. While the island paradise described in the book wasn’t much like what I remember, DM Coffman’s book is set nearly a decade earlier than when I had visited, and if there’s anything true one can say about China, it’s that the whole place changes drastically from day to day.

The Hainan Incident follows a young Chinese-American lawyer working undercover in a joint China-U.S. venture training Judges in Beijing. While traveling, however, Yi comes into contact with a secret Middle-Eastern terrorist network hiding in a tourist area on Hainan Island, and he must determine how to continue his undercover work while also investigating the terrorist threat.

This being Coffman’s first novel, many parts of the book are innocently written, lacking the depth and intrigue that could have carried a heavier sense of suspense. Certain portions of dialogue and description also tend to drag on, and I found that I could skim whole pages without really missing out on anything important. Having read my fare share of action-thrillers set under the sea (specifically Clive Cussler), I also had a hard time feeling any suspense throughout the scuba dives or the military “attacks.” I was, however, gladly surprised to see the melding of fiction with non-, as Coffman intertwined this long-shot scenario with the true-life spy-plane fiasco of April, 2001 (as recorded in Shane Osborn’s book Born to Fly).

Having never heard of Covenant Communication, Inc., I had no idea going in that this book was written by a Mormon. I got clued into that fact as I skimmed the Acknowledgments section, which I often do for insights into the extent of research, etc., involved. While her religion doesn’t affect a whole lot the plot of the story, it does add an interesting twist regarding what life must be like as a spy.

While reading the story itself, it didn’t take long before the main character, Yi, was forced to question how he could possibly balance both his spy-life and his religious life, with all the specific adjustments required of the faithful—dietary restrictions, special undergarments, etc. To encourage him, his handler says that because Mormonism “is not recognized by the government of China,” he cannot associate with any other Mormons while there. “But rest assured…there are many US agents serving undercover throughout the world that are of the Mormon faith. Because of their convictions and dedication, they are highly successful at it.” (59) Before going on his first mission, Yi actually sits down with his bishop who gives him the following advice:

“The Lord knows what’s in your heart…If after much prayer and contemplation you feel the assignment is the right choice, then I believe the Lord takes into consideration the fact that you will be unable to attend Church meetings or have scriptural material with you. These things are not yet sanctioned by the Chinese government.” (60)

When asked about how to handle his special undergarments, the bishop replies: “There are some instances when garments shouldn’t be worn. I believe that during those times, as long as you stay close to the Lord in your prayers and your thoughts, you are protected. Remember…you always have the Holy Ghost with you. Listen to His promptings.” (60)

While it’s not surprising to me that China doesn’t “yet” recognize a cult like Mormonism (especially after all the conflicts they’ve had over the Falun Gong), it does surprise me that China would have invited the “Brigham Young University China Teachers Program” to assist in educating Chinese professionals in the English language (as Coffman had done from 2001-2004, according to the book’s end matter), especially since the only thing the world knows about Mormons in general is that they’re ALL missionaries!

Because the story was thick at times and took lots of skimming to get through, I wouldn’t place it high on any must-read list. The religious aspect plays hardly any role in the book beyond what I’ve mentioned, but still makes things a bit interesting. Unless you’re either a Mormon looking for a Church-approved spy novel or a normal person looking for a novel about Sanya city on Hainan Island, however, you might not find much enjoyment from this read.

©2015 E.T.

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