This is the first in a series of modern mysteries starring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. It’s quite an impressive first book. 

The main character is Lydia Chin, or Chin Ling Wan-ju which is her Chinese name, a Chinese-American woman private investigator in New York. She lives and operates mostly in Chinatown. This is not her first case; she has worked for six years in her profession. Even though she operates officially alone, she often teams up with a white American man, Bill Smith. They have mostly a professional relationship but Bill flirts a lot with Lydia and he seems to be rather taken with her.

The case starts when Lydia accepts an assignment from a local museum, Chinatown Pride. Someone has stolen two boxes worth of Chinese porcelains which have been just acquired for the museum. They are part of a large collection which used to belong to a hermit-like collector Mr. Blair and his widow has just given the collection to the museum. The museum’s curator, Nora Yin, is one of Lydia‘s childhood friends and the museum’s lawyer is one of Lydia’s four brothers so Lydia has a lot of reasons to accept the case even though her brother is clearly against it.

Lydia‘s and Bill’s suspicions turn quickly to the local gang, the Golden Dragons, who really do not want anyone to look into their business. However, the case is much more complicated than they thought is would be. It has quite a few twists and turns.

The book has a very intriguing atmosphere. I’ve never been to New York or the Chinatown but it seems genuine to me. There is a lot of noise and lots of people and a lot of different kinds of tea. Lydia still lives with her mother who talks constantly about find a husband for her and being ashamed of her livelihood. Her mother also dotes on her sons, who all live on their own, two of them with their families. Lydia seems to like two of her brothers and not the other two. Her brother who is Chinatown Pride’s lawyer constantly shows that he doesn’t have any faith in Lydia’s abilities. Even though she’s 28 the family treats her like she’s twelve. The family dynamic is quite complex and I was impressed by it. Lydia also has a female best friend: Mary Kee who is a police detective and her mother is also ashamed of her daughter’s profession. Mary and Lydia talk mostly about the case. 

All of the characters come across as people with the possible exception of Bill Smith who remains quite a stereotypical male American P.I. in addition to being rather protective of Lydia. Most of the characters are Chinese-American. I found their culture and attitudes to be fascinatingly different from the typical white American characters. The police are also quite effective unlike in most P.I. books.

The next book will be from the POV of Bill Smith and I’m curious to see how the writer will portray Lydia and the Chinatown from his perspective.

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