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

Mandarin Plaid by S. J. Rozan

Mandarin Plaid (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith #3)Mandarin Plaid

by S.J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #3

Mass Market Paperback, 275 pg.
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1997
Read: Feb. 10, 2014

As much as I enjoyed Concourse, Mandarin Plaid reminded me of the problems I had with it — namely, it didn’t have enough Lydia Chin. We’re back to Lydia as narrator, and her carrying a lot more of the investigative and sleuthing burden. Which leads to a more interesting and satisfying read.

Once again, it’s one of Lydia’s brothers that brings her the client — and then tries to get her off the case — which starts off pretty simply, Lydia making a money drop to retrieve some stolen property. Lydia’s Chinatown connections prove invaluable to her sussing things out when the ransom drop doesn’t go according to plan.

Not that her partner, Bill Smith doesn’t bring connections to the table — he has a long history with the NYPD in general, and the NYPD detective they cross paths with. Whereas Lydia’s connections provide assistance and (mostly) useful information; Smith’s bring them grief and harassment from the NYPD.

Things move along at a good clip, Lydia’s voice is just as strong and self-assured. The case itself was pretty interesting and tricky enough to satisfy the whodunit reader. Rozan faked me out a couple of times, and in the end, when I was wrong, I could take it, because she laid the groundwork for what was really going on.

I think I’m in this series for the long-haul.

—–

3.5 Stars

Concourse by S. J. Rozan

Concourse (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith #2)Concourse

by S.J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #2

Hardcover, 280 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1996

I was pretty enthused to grab the second book in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series — Lydia’s voice and character was so strong, and her interaction with her sometimes partner Bill was not your usual P.I. partner/friend/sounding board fare. You add in the strong possibility of another case in/around Chinatown? This really had the look of a series I could sink my teeth into.

And almost immediately, that all came to a crashing halt. The voice wasn’t quite right, the interactions the first person narrator had with the other character didn’t fit Lydia — ohhhh, it dawns on me — Concourse is from Bill’s point of view. Huh. Whaddayaknow?

After the initial confusion and mental gear-shifting, I settled in for a good read. This is a gloomier, darker read than China Trade. Bill doesn’t have the same fight, the same ambition that Lydia does — and a whole different set of demons to deal with. Some of which we see here: Bill’s called in to help a former mentor/father figure with problem that’s resulted in the death of another member Bill’s surrogate family. He takes an undercover role in the investigation and calls in Lydia to uncover what she can about the parties involved from the outside.

What follows is a twisted path down real estate, NYC politics, revenge, the dark side of charity, the way the elderly are treated, and a touch of redemption. There’s a few punches thrown, some gun play, a lot of booze. Your basic ingredients for what this is — a solid PI novel.

The thing that’s kept me thinking is the Lydia/Bill relationship/dynamic. It felt a little different this time, coming from Bill’s perspective. But the core was the same. It was pretty clear in China Trade that Bill’s feelings for Lydia go beyond the flirtation she’s determined to see them as, but it was still nice to see that fully — he’s serious about her, but is willing to wait for her to come around. However playful it seemed for her, it’s not for him (again, I was pretty sure of that last time). It makes his flirtation a little less enjoyable, a little more sad.

In the end, I have a better perspective of the two of them as characters, a fuller picture. After years of seeing Elvis Cole and Joe Pike in the Elvis Cole series, Robert Crais really only gives us the same looks at the same characters in the books told from Pike’s perspective (this is nothing negative about Crais, it’s only a thought I had now, and in a moment of leisure I might come back to and further develop). So for Rozan to pull this off is quite an accomplishment.

I don’t know who will be telling the tale in the next book — I’ll hopefully figure it out a bit more quickly — and I don’t care, either way, I’m looking forward to it.

—–

3 Stars

Review: China Trade

China Trade
China Trade

by S.J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 275 pg.
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1995 by

For everyone who’s wondered what Kinsey Milhone would be like if she were a young American Born Chinese woman living with her non-English speaking mother while resisting her family’s efforts to get her to stop being a P.I., this is the book for you (and sure, who among us hasn’t played with that thought experiment?).

I don’t necessarily thing that’s what Rozan was trying for — and Lydia Chin’s not so Milhone-eque that she’s not her own character, but that’s the thought that kept running through my mind. And I do mean that as a compliment.

This was a great first book for a series — a fascinating world, some really good characters that I could see myself enjoying spending time with, and room for the characters to grow and explore this world — and that’s really the thing I want in a first book in series. Rozan adds a pretty interesting case, with just enough twists, turns, and danger to keep the reader glued to the page. She faked me out once (but in an honest way), but on the whole it was easy to stay with the pair as they untangled this web, though Lydia’s final deduction surprised me (shouldn’t have, but that’s my fault).

An entertaining start to a series I look forward to reading more of.

—–

3.5 Stars