Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Shanghai Moon by S.J. Rozan

Protagonists: Lydia Chin and Bill Smith
Setting: New York City
Rating: 5.0

It is very rare that I fall in love with a story on the first page. Yet The Shanghai Moon pulled me in immediately, spinning a yarn that was as alluring as the Shanghai Moon itself -- a legendary piece of jewelry at the center of the story. Private eye Lydia Chin is hired to help track stolen jewels dating back to World War II, when Jews fleeing the Nazis went to Shanghai. The story is told in flashback through a series of letters from the jewels' original owner, Rosalie Gilder, and by her surviving family. But someone is not telling the truth, and even after being fired from the case, Chin, with partner Bill Smith, can't let go.

Now, mysteries with jewels are nothing new (Wilkie Collin's The Moonstone is considered the first detective novel). But Rozan spins her story around two independent women -- Rosalie, a young woman sent alone to Shanghai with her younger brother (and this part is based on the very-real Jewish settlement in Shanghai during World War II) and Lydia, whose ringtone is the theme to "Wonder Woman" but who is also very rooted in the Chinese traditions. Set in New York City, Rozan very much brings the sights, smells and yes, even tastes, of Chinatown to life.

The Shanghai Moon is part of an award-winning series, but this novel can be read on its own (in fact, I haven't read any of the other novels -- yet -- and had no trouble following the characters). It's been seven years since Rozan has written a Chin/Smith novel. All I can say is, welcome back!

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