The Cutting Season

Dr. Xenon Pearl cuts brains for a living, and he’s as good as it gets. His direct, sometimes abrasive style is forgivable in light of his skill with a scalpel, and tempered by his compassion for his patients and his friends. He is a dutiful son to his widower father, a doting grandchild to a grandfather who was once a rabbi, and he has even met the girl of his dreams. Everything is on-track for this medical golden boy.

The other side of this motorcycle riding, brilliant doctor façade is a side that Xenon (aka Zee) hides even from his father. Secretly trained since childhood by his Chinese nanny, Wu, Tie Mei–herself a martial warrior of shadowy lineage–Dr. Xenon Pearl is also a martial arts expert who loves the sword as much as the scalpel.

Now his past is showing up to literally haunt him. His dead teacher reappears, reminding him that he has lived many lives before…

I relived the foul stench of city cisterns, the rotting of corpses in the desert, the intoxicating smell of night-blooming jasmine, the musky odor of my own clothes after battle, the ripe and heady aroma of a wife waiting months for my return. My fingertips bore witness to the paper-thin delicacy of azaleas, and the smooth hands of children. My hands recalled weapons I have no name for, spiked ropes and strange maces with bumps and edges like some crazy fruit. I remember the gossamer threads of an industrious spider touching my eye. I remembered feeling holes where once I had teeth.

In this life, Dr. Xenon Pearl must use his skill – to defend the innocent, defeat the Russian mob, protect the woman who loves him, and stay one step ahead of a smart cop; he is set to lose everything unless he can cut just one more time.

Arthur Rosenfeld’s The Cutting Season is a marvelously entertaining blend of many different genres: medical thriller, psychological suspense, fantasy, martial arts adventure, romance, and crime drama, all neatly packaged into three hundred engrossing pages. The hero is a brilliant neurosurgeon, Dr. Xenon Pearl, who secretly practices the fighting techniques that he learned from his former Chinese nanny, Wu Tie Mei. The nanny also passed on to her protégé her vast knowledge of Chinese history and philosophy, as well as the principles of acupuncture and the use of medicinal herbs. Zee, as Xenon is called, is no garden-variety medical professional. He rides a motorcycle, wears a ponytail, savors exotic chocolate, meditates regularly, and generally eschews the trappings of materialism that so many doctors cherish.

The author immediately captures the reader’s attention with his electrifying opening chapter. The scene is an operating room in South Florida. Zee is startled when the soul of the eleven-year old boy who is lying on his table suddenly flits from his small body and rises upward. Zee’s scalpel slips and nicks an artery, and the patient is soon declared dead. The child, whose name is Rafik, came into the hospital after suffering a terrible beating. His father is a powerful Russian mob boss named Vlexei Petrossov, and he claims that his son fell off his bicycle, a statement that is patently absurd. Before Zee confronts Petrossov, he sees the ghost of Wu Tie Mei, who has been dead for ten years. She tells Zee, “You are a fearsome warrior no matter what skin you wear.” Tie Mei is warning Xenon Pearl that he is about to confront some tough challenges that will test his mettle both as a doctor and a martial arts practitioner.

To prepare himself for what lies ahead, Zee mounts his bright yellow Triumph Thruxton motorcycle in search of Thaddeus Jones, a master swordsmith. Zee learns that Jones died two years ago. However, his daughter, the beautiful Jordan Jones, is a talented craftswoman in her own right who has inherited her father’s skill. Zee asks Jordan to craft a special weapon for him, “a straight sword, double-edged, flexible, with a voice through the air.” She agrees and gradually, Xenon Pearl forges a deep connection with this amazing and unusual woman.

As time goes on, Zee wonders: Is he a healer, an avenger, or both? His former teacher reappears regularly, trying to convince Zee that he was a warrior in a former incarnation and that he must fight again to fulfill his destiny. Goaded by Tie Mei, Zee is tempted to exact retribution against those who have harmed innocent people. However, he worries that the visions he has of Tie Mei may be hallucinations, brought on by overwork and too many sleepless nights. Should he trust the police to do their job, or should he take the law into his own deadly hands? What if, by embracing his role as a vigilante, he places himself and those he loves in danger?

This is a complex and textured novel, with vivid characters, sardonic humor, violent action, and fascinating riffs on philosophy, medicine, and the mind-body connection. With its well-crafted prose and pitch-perfect dialogue, the story moves along at lightning speed as Rosenfeld describes Zee using his training in the martial arts to make him a better neurosurgeon, comforting a fifteen-year old boy whose father lies in a coma after a possible suicide attempt, bantering with the new love of his life, and using his arcane skills to confront a host of sadistic villains. Eventually, Zee learns that his father, Asher, has kept a crucial secret from him that will change his entire perspective on who he is and what he should do in the future. The Cutting Season is a rich, fulfilling, and passionate work that both entertains and enlightens. It also raises some intriguing ideas about love, family, crime, and punishment, and suggests that “heaven is found inside each of us, and flows from defeating our demons.

 

Noah Nunberg, J.D.

New York Law School, Journal of Martial Arts Volume 16 Number 4 2007

A gripping story …. a page-turning mystery …. Rosenfeld’s medical knowledge and martial-arts expertise reinforce an authority and clarity to the work …. that’s storytelling!

Detective Jim Dees

…. fast-paced combination of crime novel and martial art lesson …. Clancy-like attention to detail …. a must read ….

Dellana

Master Bladesmith

…. lively, accurate and beautiful writing …. secret world of blades …. brimming with romance, mysticism, and murder. It’s the rare writer who can hold my interest so intensely.

Gene Ching

Kung Fu Magazine

A brain surgeon swordsman battles with …. Russian mobsters, and his own reincarnations …. this smart thriller sets a refreshing new standard for martial arts fiction.

Lawrence Kane

Author

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It’s not every day that a writer grows bold enough to attempt the creation of an entirely new category of popular fiction. But that is the task Arthur Rosenfeld, crime novelist and tai chi master, has set for himself with his ninth novel, The Cutting Season.

“It’s like saying you’re introducing a new line of cars to compete with Chevy and Ford,” Rosenfeld says, laughing. “Remember what happened to the Tucker.”

The story of a Fort Lauderdale surgeon who questions his own sanity after a ghost shows up claiming he’s the reincarnation of a Chinese warrior, The Cutting Season is a self-conscious attempt to bring a traditional Asian martial arts genre known as wu xia to American readers.

“The trick is to transliterate and transplant a quintessentially Asian category of fiction to these shores in a way that is compelling and meaningful in more than a chop-socky fashion,” Rosenfeld says.

Rosenfeld, a student and teacher of martial arts for more than 30 years, explains that wu xia is a venerable Chinese genre with a tradition extending back nearly 1,000 years. The 15 novels of its foremost modern practitioner, Louis Cha, have sold more than 300 million copies in Asia.

“I hope it’s not construed as arrogant when I say I’m creating a new category,” says Rosenfeld, sitting in the living room of his Pompano Beach house near the Hillsboro Inlet. “People think there have been plenty of writers using Asian themes and settings.”

And they’re right, Rosenfeld acknowledges. Indeed, he’s enjoyed works by the likes of James Clavell (Shogun), Eric Van Lustbader (The Ninja), Trevanian (Shibumi), Barry Eisler (The Last Assassin) and others whose novels include martial arts themes.

“What they’ve done is take a western category, the thriller or the historical novel, and set it over there,” Rosenfeld says. “I’m trying to do the opposite, take an essentially Asian literary structure and bring it over here.”

Rosenfeld began casting about for a new direction in his fiction after the disappointing reaction to his last novel, Diamond Eye (2001), a conventional law enforcement thriller featuring a postal inspector based in Miami.

Diamond Eye seemed like it had everything going for it — it opened the door on a powerful federal police agency seldom seen in popular fiction — but it was clichéd compared to Rosenfeld’s stellar previous novel, A Cure For Gravity (2000), which combined magical realism with elements of the crime yarn and the road trip story.

Reviews for Diamond Eye were mixed, and Rosenfeld didn’t think his publisher had adequately promoted the book.

For his next novel, Rosenfeld first tinkered with unpublished manuscripts he had written in the early 1990s, trying to infuse them with some of the Eastern philosophy he’d picked up from the practice of tai chi.

“I made some stabs at creating something different and new,” says Rosenfeld, who majored in Russian literature at Yale and studied with former Esquire fiction editor and revered writing guru Gordon Lish. “Then it occurred to me the most influential and fun fiction for me, the thing I’d always enjoyed reading the best, was tales from the East.”

During this period Rosenfeld, who had worked in the pharmaceutical industry before turning to writing full-time, also produced a nonfiction book, The Truth About Chronic Pain, which sold well and is now used in some medical and nursing schools as pain management becomes a hot topic. The Cutting Season blends Rosenfeld’s interests — it’s part medical thriller, part superhero origin story, part martial arts novel.

“The tai chi I practice and teach is not the New Age tai chi, not the feel-good tai chi of elderly people in the park,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s the real, nitty-gritty martial art, which is very hard to find anymore, not only here, but also in China.”

Rosenfeld, who will turn 50 on Sunday, first came to martial arts in his early 20s, studying with commercial karate and kung-fu schools that he now derisively refers to as “strip mall academies.” After the initial fascination with being able to win fights in bars, he found himself drawn beyond the kicking and punching to “a succession of more authentic and original Asian arts.”

“Eventually I found the ultimate one, tai chi, which is the one most intimately linked to the deep Asian philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism,” Rosenfeld says.

The Cutting Season’s narrative displays an impressive knowledge not just of martial arts, but medicine, motorcycles and sword making as well. It also captures the flavor of contemporary Fort Lauderdale as few novels before it, building to a climax during a storm local readers will recognize from recent hurricane seasons.

To publish The Cutting Season, Rosenfeld turned from traditional New York houses to YMAA, a niche publisher specializing in martial arts instructional books. Publisher David Ripianzi admits it’s a costly gamble for a small outfit that’s done very well publishing six to eight books a year for a specialized nonfiction market.

“I’ve always had the fancy to do a novel,” said Ripianzi, just back in his New Hampshire office after touting The Cutting Season at BookExpo America, the annual booksellers convention, held recently in New York. “We talked about it at the conference table over the years.”

Ripianzi is so committed to Rosenfeld’s new work that he’s not only publishing The Cutting Season this summer, but he’s coming out with a related novel, The Crocodile and the Crane, in the fall, followed by a sequel to The Cutting Season.

The strategy is to gain maximum recognition for Rosenfeld’s foray into a new category of popular fiction as fast as possible. Ripianzi says he was gratified by booksellers’ reactions in New York, where weary conventioneers “stopped dead in their tracks” to pick up display copies of The Cutting Season and The Crocodile and Crane. Some, he says, started reading on the spot.

Rosenfeld says he turned down a more lucrative offer from a New York publisher, in part because Ripianzi, a fellow martial artist (he practices qigong, a discipline with similarities to both tai chi and yoga, but from a different tradition), shares his values and principles. They agree the novels should not only entertain, but also convey subtle lessons.

“In the writing I wrestled with a number of issues,” Rosenfeld says. “How to take themes out of a different culture, tweak them or dress them up in such a way people think it’s just another good literary thriller, and yet at the same time they’ll subtly receive a whole different set of messages about the world and culture and traditions.

“My former literary agent took one look at the manuscript for The Cutting Season and told me it was the book I was born to write,” Rosenfeld adds. “I don’t think he was wrong.”

Walter Anderson

Chairman & CE0, Parade Magazine