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Monday, May 19, 2008

China Trade - Fun plot, easy read

China Trade was a mixed bag for me, but on balance, I like it and will probably read one or two more from the series. This book was selected because Rozan won an Edgar for a book later in her series, and this time we went for the book that started the adventures of the sleuth. The Edgar winner was Winter and Night (2002), and it’s the eighth book in the series. I enjoyed China Trade well enough to read Winter and Night and possibly a few others in the series.

A lot of books start with, “given the way it all turned out” where the author gives a big hint and I typically enjoy the author, through the first person comment, sharing with us that way. Along with that I like the self-deprecating comments, usually humorous, about herself (the Chinese-American PI, Lydia). Examples in chapter 1 – “My family all thinks it [I’m going to screw up].” “My hair, when it turns, will probably go messily grey.” Etc

For the most part, I liked the dialog. Just as I have said many times how much I like Spenser’s witticisms, and I found the dialog here pretty entertaining. I have to admit though, sometimes the dialog between Lydia and her boyfriend Bill got repetitive and strained. The overall feel in their relationship reminded me of Nick and Nora of The Thin Man a little more than a Susan (Silverman) and Spenser relationship. It will be interesting to see if Rozan can fill out the personality of Bill a bit better in future stories.

I like suspense in a book, but this was not a thriller and does not pretend to be. It is a PI / who-dunnit type story and, at that, it does quite well. There are some surprises and the many twists and turns are tied up extremely well at the end, which led me to give a high rating on our chart for that aspect.

The setting was done quite well, though not as well as some where the mood permeates everything, like the Janissary Tree and Devil in a Blue Dress which we have read previously. Still, the mother-daughter relationship, and many other aspects of the Chinese-American community present an interesting and different environment for a story.

My ratings for the book totaled: 84.5 -- a solid “B.”


Update - Eight days later.

I just finished reading another SJ Rozan book, Stone Quarry. My respect for Rozan has jumped a thousand-fold.

This book, like China Trade, is told in the first person and features Bill Smith and Lydia Chin. But here is the amazing thing: it is Bill Smith's voice, not Lydia's! And Rozan pulls this off very, very well. You have to read both books to appreciate the difference of style that is required to create a successful first person story from two completely different perspectives. I am truly wowed by what Rozan accomplished. I doubt many could do it.

I admit to the prejudice that female mystery writers cannot create the grit that I tend to like. But Rozan does it in Stone Quarry. The smoking, drinking hard-boiled image is done well. The suspense is up a tad from China Trade.

In my review of China Trade, I suggested that Bill's character is underdeveloped. In this book, Rozan eliminates that critique faster than a car can fall into a quarry. We learn more about his past, his preferences, and his values.

Although this book is also a solid "B," I can say that my interest in reading more of Rozan's books has shot up higher after Stone Quarry.

2009 POLL #2--Do Mystery Stories and Political Bias Mix? What is closest to your view?