Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

Ghost HeroGhost Hero

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #11

Hardcover, 325 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2011

Read: October 13 – 16, 2017


So, Lydia Chin is approached by a potential client who is clearly lying about his identity about some paintings that are rumored to be in New York, and potentially on sale soon. This client really wants to establish a name for himself in Contemporary Chinese Art, and owning these paintings — preferably before they go on sale — will go a long way toward that. Here’s the trick, no one knows if they really do exist, or where they might be. Still the rumors persist, and in the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” kind of thinking, they’ve got to exist. The trick is that the artist was killed in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The client wants her to find them, prove they’re real (ideally), and help him get the leg up on the competition.

Like I said, Lydia doesn’t trust the man, and doesn’t understand why he picked her, but his cash is good and she’s curious (about him, the paintings, why he might want the paintings). So she takes the case, but doesn’t know where to start. Luckily, her partner, Bill Smith knows just the guy to talk to — another Chinese PI. Second generation ABC, from the Midwest, Jack Lee has an art degree and mostly looks into stolen and questionable art. Really, he’s the ideal PI to look for these paintings — and it turns out that someone else thought so, too and already hired him to do that. The three decide to work together on this, each playing to their own strengths.

From there, they dive deep into the New York Art Scene — at least those that brush up against Chinese Art — there are people who care about art, people who care about influence and money, and those who really, really care about art. Some care so much that Jack Lee gets shot at more than once. There are other threats as well — the idea that Chau might still be alive is a pretty hot political topic, and various governmental entities seem interested in what Lydia is up to.

The case is pretty interesting — and the various people that the trio interacts with are so interesting, so colorful, occasionally so despicable. The solution that Lydia cooks up is worthy of Blackadder’s Baldrick, but I kind of liked it. It works as a solution in a novel (I hope nothing like this would happen in real life). The ultimate reveal was a bit too obvious, but I still enjoyed it — and the rest of the mystery made up for it.

I’ve said time and time again, I love reading the back-and-forth between Lydia and Bill — adding Jack to that seems like a gamble. Thankfully, it worked wonderfully, he fits in with the two of them so wonderfully well that you wish he’d been around for a couple of novels previously to this. It almost doesn’t matter if the plot behind the book was entertaining, just get the three of these guys around a beverage or two and it’s worth it.

On the one hand, I’m kind of with Lydia in not understanding why someone would come to her to look for this — art isn’t her thing. On the other hand, she dealt with art dealers in China Trade, Chinese heirlooms in Reflecting the Sky, missing jewels in The Shanghai Moon (which yeah, is sort of precious minerals, but the art aspect of the Moon seems as/more important than the gems). So it’s not like she’s an utter novice. Sure, going to Bill Smith or Matt Scudder would seem like a bad move — but Lydia’s a good choice for this case (not as obvious a choice as Jack Lee, I grant you). And how could I not think of another PI in New York?

There was one thing I was disappointed in: I was truly hoping/expecting that this book would contain a clue (if not more) about why this was the last book to be published in the series — and given the 6 years that have passed since then, it seems pretty likely that this was it for the series. I’m assuming that it wasn’t planned, but can’t find any information about it (which means that someone’s going to come along in half an hour with a link to 15,000 words about the reason for this.) Update: A few hours after posting this, Rozan assured me that the series is not over, which is great to hear

A fun, fast-paced read that is enjoyable, engaging and all around entertaining — which is pretty much a great way to describe any novel from Lydia Chin’s point of view. Give this one a shot and then pick up the others (or pick up the others, and then this one — either way).

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

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On the Line by SJ Rozan

On the LineOn the Line

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #10

Hardcover, 309 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: May 25 – 26, 2017


Okay, it’s Bill Smith’s turn as the POV character — and that’s a good thing, because this would be a very short book if it wasn’t. A figure from Bill’s past is back, looking for revenge. The electronically altered voice on the phone belongs to someone that was sent to prison, in part due to Bill’s work, and now he’s out and is ready for Bill to pay what he’s due. He’s demanding that Bill play this game he’s devised in order to keep his hostage alive for the next 12 hours (or so).

The hostage, of course, is Lydia Chin. This is what makes this book different from all the other books where the hero is racing against the clock to play the twisted game of the psychopath in order to save the hostage. The hostage isn’t someone created just to be in peril, this is someone we’ve become attached to over the last 9 books (half the time being in her brain, I should add) — and Bill’s got a lot more history with and affection for her than any of us readers do. Again, this is stuff we know, not something manufactured for the purposes of this plot. So the stakes are higher for Bill than most heroes in this plot, and we believe it, too.

Without Lydia to work with, Bill has to get help from others — there’s just no way that he can do this on his own. Enter Lydia’s friend Mary, the NYPD detective; and her cousin Linus, the hacker/computer guru. Even with these two replacing Lydia, Bill spends a lot of the time seemingly over-matched. Now that I think about it, he’s so distracted by worry that a lot of the thinking is left to others, Bill mostly reacts to things in anger and fear. All believably, I should add.

The kidnapper/tormentor isn’t some psychopathic genius, some criminal mastermind — he’s a smart, committed criminal who has spent a lot of time planning. This means that the reader can see why he’d go off the bend like he does, why Bill can defeat him — and yet spend so many pages clueless. He is clever, I shouldn’t downplay that — the game he’s set up, the clues (and what he does with them) show that this is no slouch that Bill’s up against. Thankfully, neither are Bill’s allies — for 2010, one of the solutions involves a ingenious use of social media (actually, it’d be a pretty sly use in 2017, too).

The conversations between Lydia and Bill are what I’m always saying are the highlight of these books — in this book, their chats are brief proof of life kind of things. This means that every word, every nuance counts — and it’s primarily in what these two don’t have to say to communicate that is the winning element.

I enjoyed this one so much — even if Bill wasn’t as sharp as he should’ve been, even if Lydia is practically a non-factor throughout (but when she gets involved, it counts). Rozan knows these two, their world, so well that this story seems effortless (which it just couldn’t be).

It seems effortless for her, I should say, the reader is left hanging on every development, every twist, every detail, just hoping that Bill can save the day. One of Rozan’s best.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan

The Shanghai MoonThe Shanghai Moon

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #9

Hardcover, 373 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2010

Read: February 16 – 18, 2016


Oh, man . . . things got away from me and I haven’t been able to reconnect with Lydia or Bill for too long now (14 months between books I think) — I missed them. Thankfully, it took no time at all to get back in the groove.

Speaking of breaks, following the shattering events of Winter and Night, Bill Smith pretty much took a break from everything — including Lydia. She understood that but didn’t like it one bit. So when he does come back into he life early on in this book, she doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and makes him jump through a few hoops to get back into her good graces (but not nearly as many hoops as she intended).

But before we get to that, a one-time mentor and occasional colleague, Joel Pilarsky asks Lydia to help with an investigation. Some jewels have recently been uncovered in China, stolen and theoretically brought to New York to be sold. The client wants Pilarsky to track them down — he suggests that he’ll cover the Jewish jewelry shops that might buy them, and hires Lydia to do the same with Chinese jewelers. What makes these jewels special is that they belonged to Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai, and were probably owned by the same person who owned a legendary piece of jewelry from that time — The Shanghai Moon. Not that the client, a lawyer focused the recovery of Holocaust items, bothers to mention The Shanghai Moon (she has a lame excuse for that oversight when Lydia brings it up later).

Yes, I did say Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I felt bad about not knowing anything about that until Lydia confessed it was news to her, too. She’s intrigued by this notion — and the story of the owner of these jewels, much of which is preserved in letters she wrote to her mother after fleeing from Europe and are now part of a collection of Holocaust documents. We get these letters to, and read them with Lydia and slowly we’re drawn in to the saga of this poor woman and the Chinese man she marries while Lydia and Joel search for her heirlooms.

The investigation soon focuses on The Shanghai Moon — and the murders that appear to be connected to this crime. Bill returns to Lydia’s life in time to help with this investigation. Before you know what’s happening, we’re immersed in a mystery that stretches over decades and involves Nazis, Communists, Japanese military, NYC Chinese gangs and much, much more. The threads that connect all these to the jewels and the family tied to them are so many in number and complex in nature, that I wouldn’t try to explain it even if it wouldn’t spoil the book.

I didn’t get as invested in the historical material as Lydia did — but i came close, and I think most readers will, too. If for no other reason than Bill and Lydia do. There’s a history professor that the pair interview for some more context that I’d love to meet again (I can’t imagine how that’d happen) — he’s a fun character that’s much better developed than most characters filling his role would be in detective novels.

I don’t know if I’ve liked Lydia’s mom as much as I did in this book before (or enjoyed her as much) — it took Lydia far too long to understand what her mother was doing throughout the novel, and the growth/change it represented, but I thought it was great. I’m actually looking forward to reading about her in the next novel (I’ve never disliked the character, just have never been that interested in her).

Best of all, as normal, was the banter and other types of conversation between Lydia and Bill. I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again, but I’d read a couple hundred pages of them just talking over tea and snacks. There was a lot unsaid between them about the months between the novels, but Rozan had them not say it in a great way — and what they said was as good as usual.

Throw in a juicy mystery, good characters and a missing treasure? You’ve got yourself a winner. No surprise that I liked the ninth novel in a series I’ve enjoyed the previous eight in — but that doesn’t make it any less good, it just means that Rozan’s consistently on target. I strongly recommended The Shanghai Moon along with its predecessors.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Winter and Night by S. J. Rozan

Winter and NightWinter and Night

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #8

Hardcover, 338 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2002
Read: December 11 – 14, 2015

On the whole, I enjoy the Lydia Chin novels in this series more than the Bill Smith ones, while I’d say the Bill Smith novels are better novels. Winter and Night was the best of both worlds — it was probably the best written in the series, and I really enjoyed it.

Bill gets a call in the middle of the night to come help a teen that the NYPD has taken into custody. He does brings the kid, Gary, home with him and hears a vague sob story about how Gary’s just trying to help, trying to do the right thing. And then he runs away. Bill gets Lydia to start looking for Gary in NYC while he goes to check out the kid’s hometown.

There’s more wrong in the small town Gary ran from than just a missing kid. This little town is football-crazy, I’m talking Texas football crazy, the kind of thing you think King of the Hill and Friday Night Lights is making too much of, but start to wonder if they’re not. Then there’s a dead high schooler. And seemingly every person in the town is telling Bill not to think that this had anything to do with a rape and murder over 20 years ago. Which, just gets him wondering, naturally.

This case gets under Bill’s skin, hitting close to home, and worse. Lydia compares him to a patched-up furnace that’s about to explode. He gets pretty close a couple of times, actually. Making this a rougher, more raw, more violent story (not that Bill’s books are absent violence). Because this is so close to him, he makes some really dumb mistakes — Bill, Lydia and the police spend a few chapters trying to prevent a crime that’s just not going to happen, and I spent far too much time annoyed with them from not seeing things are clearly as I could.

How does Rozan do it? Seriously, you get the same two characters in two different novels or four different always know each taking the lead and is like it’s two different series. You know, there’s a certain feel when you read a Robert Crais book — Elvis Cole book or a Joe Pike book, the books are different, and the two protagonists/narrative voiced are different. But you can tell they’re by the same writer. Not the case here — at all — it’s not even close. If you told me the two different people writing the series I’d absolutely believe you.

For my money, this is the best in the series (so far). Thoughtful, suspenseful, moody . . . everything you want in a P. I. novel.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Reflecting the Sky by S. J. Rozan

Reflecting the SkyReflecting the Sky

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #7

Hardcover, 312 pg.
Thomas Dunne Books, 2001

Read: October 24 – 26, 2015


I love reading the conversations that Lydia and Bill have — especially those that have little-to-nothing to do with their work. In the opening pages of this book, where Lydia explains to Bill what Grandfather Gao wants them to do, and where he wants them to do it, we get one of their better conversations. Bill has a lot of fun with the idea that the venerated Grandfather Gao wants him to do anything for him, much less travel to the other side of the planet for him.

Grandfather Gao, who looms large over Chinatown in general and Lydia’s life in particular, wants the two of them to make a couple of deliveries to Hong Kong: the ashes of an old friend, and a package for that friend to be delivered to his brother.

Of course this simple errand doesn’t go as planned — it’d be a very short book if it did. As entertaining as it might be to read about these two playing tourist in Hong Kong, that’s not the type of book Rozan wrrites. Soon, this errand plunges the partners into at least one kidnapping plot, a murder, and all sorts of other crimes. How much of this was predicted by Grandfather Gao is a question on everyone’s mind.

The best part of this book is seeing Lydia in a strange land — in NYC, the accent is on the “Chinese” in Chinese-American, by the way she was raised, where she lives (both neighborhood and with her mother), her family, and her appearance. But here? The accent is on “American.” She gets a bit more of the culture and customs than your typical tourist, and a lot more of the language, but at the end of the day, she’s a foreigner even where Bill’s the one who looks different than most people she’s around.

Now, no American detective (or pair) can wander around a foreign city, stirring up trouble and solving crimes without one ally. Lydia and Bill are helped out by Mark Quan, a detective raised in the American South who moved to Hong Kong later and became a police officer there. He, of course, has his own connection to Grandfather Gao — which, at least, means that he can be trusted. At the end of the day, we’re reminded more than once, that a cop is a cop no matter where you are, so even if he can be trusted, he’s not that open to P.I. help (especially American P.I. help). I really enjoyed him as a character, and hope that he gets sent to NYC in the future to help with something in a Rush Hour/Red Heat-type move.

Bill, as usual, comes across as a better guy than he does in the books from his perspective. I appreciate that dynamic, he comes across as more heroic (if semi-annoyingly interested in Lydia — from her perspective), and she comes across a bit more clever and resourceful in his books. He didn’t get nearly enough to do, in my opinion, but I know he’ll get his turn soon enough.

Not the best in this series, but man, it was entertaining. Loved seeing these two as fish out of water, yet still doing their thing. Bring on the next!

—–

3.5 Stars

Review Catch Up: Walking the Perfect Square; The Drop; and A Bitter Feast

Time for another catch-up post because: A. I should’ve had these taken care of months ago, and B. because I’m having a really hard time writing up Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Walking the Perfect SquareWalking the Perfect Square

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Moe Prager, #1

Hardcover, 264 pg.
Permanent Press, 2002
Read: April 19 – 23, 2014

Moe Prager is waiting to call his daughter on her birthday, but before he can do that he answers a phone call that may lead him to solving an old missing persons case. It’s a case that he investigated twenty years previously, shortly after an injury forced his retirement from the NYPD. We spend most of the novel in the 70’s, with brief looks at Prager’s present, tracing his work on the case.

As a mystery novel, it’s okay. Nothing special, but it kept my attention, kept me guessing, and was entertaining enough. Which is a decent start for a series. By the end, I’d really started to enjoy Prager and wanted to see where he goes from here — either the 70’s or 90’s (although I’m pretty sure the series sticks with the latter).

Stylistically, this was pretty cool. Though published in the early 2000’s, the flashback segments feel like they could’ve been written in the 1970’s/80’s. The present day material felt like it was written in the late 1990’s, and yet they were definitely of a piece. I’m very impressed that he pulled that off.

The last few paragraphs turned this from a decent mystery novel into a really good one — and if my mood had been a bit different at the time, they could’ve earned it a 4-start rating. The ending really does elevate the whole — while it sends you reeling from a serious gut punch.

I really should’ve gotten back to this series, but I didn’t want to color my take on him as he started his tenure with Jesse Stone — but that’s passed now, time to get busy.
3 Stars

The DropThe Drop

by Dennis Lehane

Paperback, Large Print, 229 pg.
HarperLuxe, 2014
Read: September 30 – October 01, 2014

For Lehane, this was light and breezy. Bob Saginowski is a bartender in his cousin Marv’s bar (well, it’s not really Marv’s anymore — the Chechen mafia owns it now, Marv just runs it). Bob’s down-on-his luck, living in his deceased mother’s house, going to her Church, and trying to get by. A couple of days after Christmas, he finds a dog in a trash can. He takes the dog home and finds himself a reason to keep going — it doesn’t hurt that there’s a woman tangentially involved, but he’d be a devoted dog owner regardless. There’s a possibility for romance on the horizon, but there are a few obstacles.

Said Chechen mafia, for one. Marv’s dreams for getting one over on them. A couple of armed robbers. A Boston PD detective that attends the same Masses as Bob. The guy who disposed of the dog and seems to be having second thoughts. And Bob’s own mysterious past — and penance can’t seem to erase it for him.

But if Bob can manage all that, he just might find himself a little slice of happiness.

It’s not a typical Lehane story, but it works. Lines like these help:

Happiness made Marv anxious because he knew it didn’t last. But happiness destroyed was worth wrapping your arms around because it always hugged you back.

and

The traffic had thinned considerably as they drove past Harvard Stadium, first football stadium in the country and yet one more building that seemed to mock Marv, one more place he’d have been laughed out of if he’d ever tried to walk in. That’s what this city did — it placed its history in your face at every turn so you could feel less significant in its shadow.

(the movie based on this novel — adapted by Lehane — ain’t too shabby, either.)
4 Stars

TitleA Bitter Feast

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #5

Hardcover, 309 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1998
Read: December 11 – 13, 2014

Throughout this book — but especially in the first chapter — if you don’t feel the foreign-ness, the other-ness, of Lydia’s Chinatown, you aren’t reading it right. Which doesn’t really make it different from the other books in this series that are from Lydia’s POV, it just seemed particularly strong in this one.

There’s more than a clash of cultures with this case — there’s a clash of generations. Between those who think like transplanted Chinese, and those who think like American Born Chinese. Some restaurant workers are trying to unionize, and some owners (who may or may not have less-legitimate other businesses) aren’t too keen on it. There are some bullets and some bombs involved — which is pretty much where Lydia comes in. If she can identify, once and for all, who is taking this clash and making it violent, it can be stopped (and, well, the other side will probably end up carrying the day).

I’m not really certain that I need a case — or a plot — I could read a short novel-length work of Lydia and Bill just chatting over tea and espresso. Outside of Wolfe and Archie — or maybe early Spenser and Hawk — I can’t think of two characters I enjoy “listening” to more conversing with each other.

Narrative-wise and character-wise there’s nothing particularly interesting here, instead it’s just what you expect from a Lydia Chin book. Good, solid entertainment from a very reliable author.
3 Stars

No Colder Place by S. J. Rozan

No Colder Place (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith #4)No Colder Place

by S.J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #4

Hardcover, 288 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1997
Read: June 5, 2014

Rozan was able to tap into her day job here and use her knowledge of architecture, construction — particularly the idiosyncratic way that construction is done in NYC. Bill, and the tune/atmosphere Rozan uses for his books, is able to be pensive, reflective, and almost poetic in thinking about the act of building. Lydia wouldn’t be able to do that. This type of thing is a real advantage to switching POV characters the way Rozan does.

The series feels different when Bill is at the center, and I found myself liking it more this time than last. I feel bad for him as far as Lydia is concerned. When the novel is told from her perspective, there’s something quixotic about his pursuit of her, and you can give a sympathetic chuckle when he tries. But from his point-of-view, it’s just sad.

There is just so much unsaid about Bill. The retreat to the cabin. His piano playing. Why he won’t move on from Lydia. Rozan’s walking a fine line between having an enigmatic character and just withholding information. I do want to see and learn more about him, but I’m not feeling cheated (for now).

Anyway, I should focus on the case in this book. Again we have Bill going undercover (also again, thanks to someone from his murky past) — with Lydia providing backup and support. This time on a construction site plagued by robberies, a disappearance — and perhaps a little bookmaking or drug dealing. Naturally, it doesn’t take long for things to get ugly and far messier than he’d expected. It’s deftly told with the right amount of twists, turns, and danger. Plus interesting and compelling sporting characters, and not your everyday detective novel crimes.

Come to think about it, that’s one of the best parts of this series — the crimes they are hired to investigate are not your typical mystery novel fare. Yeah, things eventually return to the mainstays (murder, blackmail, etc), but they start in interesting places.

No Colder Place is worthy entry to this series, and I’m ready for the next one.

—–

3.5 Stars