When I read a short story by S. J. Rozan a while back, “Chin Yong-Yun Takes a Case,” I had never heard of Rozan before, let alone her series character, Lydia Chin, Yong-Yun’s daughter, but I had enjoyed the unique perspective to keep it in the back of my mind. When I saw that our library had China Trade, the first in the series, available as an audio, I had to borrow it.

Lydia Chin is in her late-20s, an age at which her traditional mother thinks she should have been married by, and a private investigator, an occupation her mother and brother disapprove of, but that doesn’t stop Lydia. A lifelong resident of Chinatown in New York, Lydia is the obvious choice when part of a small neighborhood museum’s porcelain collection is stolen. The investigation takes her and her sometimes partner Bill into meetings with the menacing gangs who have a hold of Chinatown and beyond the edges of the neighborhood, into an equally foreign land of art and collecting.

Two things set this book apart for me, the protagonist and the setting. Lydia is a good mix of traditional and modern. She’s tough, feisty and can handle herself in a fight, but she lives with her mom, approaches elders in town with respect, understand how much reputation matters in Chinatown. She doesn’t sleep with her clients or anyone as far as I could tell. She doesn’t lie to the cops, although she may not tell them everything she knows. She has good friends and a meddlesome, but I think basically loving, family. One thing that did annoy me was the constant low-level flirtation with Bill. I hope it doesn’t turn into one of those “will they or won’t they” relationships that never really goes anywhere, just drags on at the same stage through book after book.

Chinatown is an interesting backdrop for a mystery. It’s a different world, close-knit, a fascinating mix of old and new Chinese culture. And this mystery, with its particular solution, couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Rozan brings Chinatown alive, a separate city within New York, a city of smells and sounds, shops and dark alleys, a complicated world I enjoyed visiting through Lydia’s eyes.

I listened to this on audio, which worked well for me. There aren’t too many characters and the narrator did a fine job with most of the voices. I tend to enjoy listening to mysteries. There’s enough action to keep me involved, keep me paying attention.

The plot was well-done, lots of twists and turn, a fair amount of danger, but for me it was Lydia and her neighborhood that will keep me reading the next in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Category: Mystery

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Lydia Chin & Bill Smith #1
First published 1994
9 hours 26 minutes
Narrated by Christine Marshall

Book source: Library

Lydia Chin & Bill Smith Series

  1. China Trade
  2. Concourse
  3. Mandarin Plaid
  4. No Colder Place
  5. A Bitter Feast
  6. Stone Quarry
  7. Reflecting the Sky (APA: Blood Rites)
  8. Winter and Night (APA: Blook Ties) 
  9. The Shanghai Moon (APA: Trail of Blood)
  10. On the Line (APA: Out for Blood)
  11. Ghost Hero


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