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Book Author: S. J. Rozan

THE MURDER OF MR. MA by John Shen Yen Nee and S. J. Rozan: Book Review

The Murder of Mr. Ma is an enchanting, magical trip (in more ways than one) that takes readers to London in 1924, as seen through the eyes of a young Chinese professor, Lao She.

As the novel opens, Lao is summoned to the home of the Honorable Bertrand Russell and through him meets the famous Judge Dee Ren Jie.  During the Great War, Dee was brought to France to settle the differences between the British army and the Chinese Labour Corps, men who had been brought from China to work as non-military personnel, thus freeing British soldiers for battle.

Although the Chinese men were not allowed to live in England after the war, four of them somehow were brought to the country under the auspices of Inspector William Bard, now a member of the Metropolitan Police and formerly a captain with the British forces in France.

Then all the other Chinese laborers were returned home, even though some wished to remain in England.  Some did stay, secretly, and the murder of one of these men is what has brought Dee to England and into the path, once again, of Inspector Bard, a man who harbors a grudge against the judge for his work in France.

When Dee and Lao start their inquiry into the fatal stabbing of Ma Ze Ren, one of the men in the Labour Corps, they hear some things that don’t quite add up.  His widow, a Caucasian woman, tells them that the shop Ma owned wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped even though he spent all day there, and thus she decided to sell all the merchandise and return to her home in Norfolk.

However, when Dee and Lao talk to the shop’s assistant, they learn that the shop had been making a profit, that Ma spent very little time in the store and, in his opinion, the widow could have gotten a better offer for the goods if she hadn’t accepted the first one she received.

That offer was made by Colonel Livingstone Moore, so Lao and Dee go to the colonel’s home to see his purchase.  Although Moore fancies himself as a man knowledgeable about Chinese art and antiques, it’s obvious to the two men that he’s not knowledgeable at all.  Moore says that he bought the contents of the shop from Ma’s widow as a kindness, but the two Chinese men are disbelieving.

Then a second Chinese man, also from the Labour Corps, is killed by the same Chinese sword as Ma.  Then a third.

Readers may be familiar with the fictional character of Judge Dee, a 7th-century jurist.   He, in turn, was based on the real-life Di Renje, a diplomat and detective, in a brilliant series by Robert Van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and Orientalist.  Lao She, a name unfamiliar to me, was a 20th-century Chinese novelist and dramatist.

The collaboration of John Shen Yen Nee and S. J. Rozan is a brilliant one.  The Murder of Mr. Ma is Mr. Nee’s first foray into detective fiction, although he was a senior vice president of  D. C. and publisher of Marvel Comics.  Ms. Rozan is the author of 16 novels featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith in New York City, and she is the recipient of two Edgar Awards and two Anthony awards, among many other honors.

You can read more about them at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


THE MAYORS OF NEW YORK by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

When the only son of the mayor of New York City goes missing, one would expect there would be a major search for him, using radio, television, and newspaper coverage in addition to the police.  That’s not the case, however, when teenager Mark McCann is the one that private investigators Bill Smith and Lydia Chin are hired to find.

The mayor is in the midst of crucial negotiations with the city’s Detective Endowment Association, and she is concerned that calling the city’s police to find her son will make her look as if she’s a negligent single mother and thus weaken her position at the bargaining table and lessen her chances of being re-elected next year.

This is not the first time Mark has run away, Bill and Lydia learn, but it’s the first time he’s been gone overnight.  He wouldn’t go to his father’s condo, the mayor’s assistant tells Bill, because they don’t get along, and he wouldn’t confide in his twin sister Madison because they don’t get along either.  So with no one outside his home to turn to, where did he go?  And why?

Lydia Chin has just finished talking to the parents of another teenager, Amber Shun, who was found hanging in a Manhattan park.  The coroner ruled it was a suicide, but Mr. and Mrs. Shun don’t believe that their daughter, an A student and serious musician, would have killed herself.  Lydia tells the parents she doesn’t think there is anything she could do to prove their daughter’s death was murder, so she declines to take the case.  But it’s worrying her.

Neither Mark’s twin sister nor his father seem at all concerned about the disappearance.  It’s obvious that Madison is her father’s favorite child, and the two share a philosophy of winner take all and they’re the winners; all the others, including Mark, are losers and not too many tears need to be shed over them.  The more closely Bill and Lydia look into the case, the more they begin to fear that Mark’s disappearance may not be an instance of an unhappy teenager needing some time to himself but may be a case of someone running away from danger.

Bill and Lydia are determined to follow the scant clues there are, and those clues take them to neighborhoods in Chinatown, Times Square, and Staten Island.  Mark, however, always seems to be a step ahead of them, and his ability to evade capture would be viewed as clever if it were not so frustrating to the detectives.

As with every one of her previous mysteries, S. J. Rozan has written a compelling story that features two of the most engaging private investigators working today.  Bringing together their separate strengths and abilities, Smith and Chin are a formidable team.

S. J. Rozan’s work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.  She’s also the recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon Award and recently received the Life Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America.

You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

FAMILY BUSINESS by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

New York City’s Chinatown, comprised of twelve enclaves within the city, has the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia.  Little wonder, therefore, that there’s enough crime to keep private investigator Lydia Chin and her partner Bill Smith very busy indeed.

When Big Brother Choi dies (a natural death), he leaves a vacuum not only in the Li Min Jin tong that he controlled but in Manhattan itself.  He owned a multi-story apartment building in the heart of Chinatown, and a development group wants to buy it, demolish it, and then rebuild it as part of a mixed luxury and middle-income condominium, Phoenix Towers.  The possible sale has produced a heated debate by those who say the destruction of the building would shatter the heart of the community versus those who say it would provide a much needed economic boost to the area.

The building has been left to Choi’s niece Wu Mao-Li, known as Mel.  She knows that her uncle Choi didn’t want to sell the building, but there are significant forces that are pressuring her to change her mind.  Following a call from Chang Yao-Zu, her uncle’s lieutenant, she hires Lydia and Bill to accompany her to her uncle’s apartment to find out if there’s anything he left her to further explain his position and shore up support for her refusal to sell.

Waiting for them in the building’s lobby is Tan Lu-Lien, the tong’s financial officer.  She leads the way to Choi’s apartment, where his lieutenant, Chang Yao-Zu, was expected to let them inside.  When he doesn’t appear, Mel uses the key her uncle had given her, opens the door, and the quartet see Chang’s bloody body lying across a tea table.

While the police investigate the murder, Mel asks Lydia and Bill to continue looking into her uncle’s affairs in the hope of strengthening her position vis-a-vis the building’s future.

The tension rises as the various players make their positions known re the disposition of Choi’s property.  In addition to Mel, there’s Ironman Ma, a tong member, who wants to search the property because he thinks Choi had hidden treasure somewhere on the site; Jackson Ting, an area developer who needs to demolish the building so he can build the development he’s counting on to make him a major player in the city; and Mel’s sister Natalie, who is being blackmailed to pressure Mel into selling the site.

Also involved is Lydia’s brother Tim, a lawyer in a white-shoe law firm who is having mixed emotions about the building.  As a member of Harriman McGill, he should favor the Phoenix Towers development because Jackson Ting is a client of the firm.  On the other hand, he’s a board member of the Chinatown Heritage Society, which opposes it.

As always, Ms. Rozan brings not only her protagonists but the entire New York Chinese community to life.  The descriptions of the people and places in Manhattan and the dialog between Lydia and Bill are wonderful.  Readers will feel as if they are walking the streets and eavesdropping on Lydia and Bill while the duo is eating ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory or enjoying tea at Miansai.

Ms. Rozan’s work has won the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE ART OF VIOLENCE by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

Sam Tabor, recently released from prison, has turned to his friend, private investigator Bill Smith, for help.  Sam was sentenced to fifteen years to life for killing Amy Evans, a young woman he met at a party.   There he unknowingly drank punch that had been laced with PCP, and after leaving the party with Amy, he killed her.  He was judged insane but able to participate in his own defense, which he did against the opinions of his brother, his attorney, and Smith.  Sam then proceeded to disregard their advice, pleaded guilty, and happily went to prison.

In prison he was permitted to paint and his art, which had always been Sam’s secret, was discovered by a therapist.  What followed was praise by New York art critics, and a Free Sam Tabor crusade was begun for his early release.  Now that he’s out, he’s overwhelmed by the media attention and is incredibly anxious about an exhibit of his paintings opening at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan.  So once again he wants Smith’s help, but for a very unusual reason.

Since Sam was released, there have been two murders in the city, and he thinks he may be the murderer.  He describes himself as a functioning alcoholic and tells Bill he can’t remember what he was doing on the nights the two young women were killed.  “I came here for help,” he tells Smith.  “Prove it’s me.”

Arrayed against Sam and his desire to return to prison are his brother Peter, Sam’s lawyer Susan Tulis, his artist friend Elissa Cromley, photographer Tony Oakhurst, and Sherron Konecki, the owner of the prestigious art gallery Lemuria.  They all have a vested interest in keeping Sam out of prison–either financial, professional, or personal.

Even Detective Angela Grimaldi of Manhattan’s 19th precinct doesn’t think Sam committed the latest murders.  When Sam went to the precinct to turn himself in, “She told me to get lost,” Sam recounts to Smith.  Grimaldi later tells Bill, “Your guy, Tabor, he doesn’t fit the profile.”  But Sam thinks, or perhaps hopes, that he did commit these two crimes, and it’s up to Bill and his partner Lydia Chin to find the truth.

The Art of Violence is the thirteenth novel in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series.  Ms. Rozan’s mode of operation is to alternate the protagonist in her novels.  Bill Smith is the lead in this one, but he cannot do it without the help of his partner Lydia.  And for readers of the previous books in this series, there’s an absolutely wonderful chapter toward the end of the novel in which Sam Tabor meets Mrs. Chin, Lydia’s intimidating mother.

It’s terrific to see Bill and Lydia in action again and at the top of their game.  S. J. Rozan is the recipient of many awards, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity awards for Best Novel and the Edgar for Best Short Story.

You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

GHOST HERO by S. J. Rozan: Book Review

Lydia Chin and Bill Smith are together again. They are private investigators in New York City; given Lydia’s ethnicity, they do a lot of investigating in Chinatown.

Quietly drinking tea in a Lower East Side tearoom, Lydia is approached by a new client.  He introduces himself as Jeff Dunbar, a man interested in contemporary Chinese art.  Lydia is a bit put off by this, wondering if he has chosen her for her “Chineseness” or her knowledge of Chinese art; if so, she thinks, he’s in for a rude surprise.  Her lack of knowledge of art, most especially contemporary Chinese art, is profound.

Dunbar tells her it’s not her knowledge of the art scene that made him come to her but her reputation at finding people or things. What he wants her to look into is a rumor circulating around the city’s galleries that several previously unknown paintings by Chau Chun, a Chinese artist who was killed in Tiananmen Square in the 1989 uprising, have surfaced in New York.  Dunbar portrays himself as a new collector who wants to find out if these painting exist and, if they do, to get them, authenticate them, and sell them.

But Lydia isn’t taking him at his word.  After he gives her a retainer and leaves, she searches through the web for information about him–no hits.  He gave her a card with his name and cell phone number but no company name, address, or e-mail.  And his clothing and demeanor don’t shout money to her either.  Her suspicions are aroused.

Intrigued by Lydia’s description of and questions about Dunbar, Bill Smith brings her to a friend of his, another Chinese-American private detective, Jack Lee. After hearing Lydia’s story about her new client, Jack shares his own–he too has just been approached by a client to find these paintings.  But his client wants to find the paintings, if they exist, to declare them fraudulent.  The client, a Professor Yang at New York University, was a friend of Chau Chun’s in Beijing, and he knows there are no recent or undiscovered paintings by the artist because he was there when the artist was killed.

There’s a strong sense of Chinatown in this novel, with its winding streets and myriad restaurants; the food descriptions alone make the book worth reading.  There’s also a fair amount of humor in this novel, more than I remember in previous books in this series.  The art scene is portrayed as a dog-eat-dog one, with money being the prime motivator.  Lydia’s stereotypical mother makes an appearance, as does her cousin, a nineteen-year-old techie who can find out just about anything Lydia want to know.

The only problem I had with the book with the lack of a crime. It’s really a “cozy” in the sense that there’s little violence, little crime, and no deaths.  The mystery and the plot are strong, but I would have enjoyed a bit more tension than was present.

You can read more about S. J. Rozen at her web site.