The Shanghai Moon, S.J. Rozan, Minotaur Books, $24.95.
S.J. Rozan's series featuring, in alternating volumes, P.I.s Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, has returned after a seven year hiatus. Since Rozan's previous novel in the series, Winter and Night, won an Edgar for best novel, her publishers were willing to cut her some slack and wait for her return. It was a good decision—The Shanghai Moon is one of the more complex and deeply felt novels in the series, and the topic is so interesting it could definitely host its own book. It's obviously a topic that has grabbed the author's passionate attention. Lydia and Bill, thanks to some events in the last book, have been somewhat estranged (though it's more a case of Bill holding Lydia at arm's length for reasons of his own), so the case she takes on is at the request of another P.I., Joel Pilarsky.
Joel has been asked by a woman who works as a holocaust recovery agent to try and track down some missing jewels that have recently been discovered in Shanghai. To give it historical context, Shanghai was one of only two places in the world that allowed Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis free access through its ports. Shanghai was occupied by Japan at the time, but the Japanese didn't share Hitler's idea of extinguishing the Jews, and in China, anti-Semitism was unknown. (Anti-European sentiment was another story). The jewels Lydia is trying to find in modern day New York City's Chinatown long ago belonged to a young refugee, Rosalie Gilder, who fled her home with her brother at the age of 18. She ended up settling in Shanghai and eventually marrying a wealthy Chinese man—her jewels, some of them belonging to her Viennese mother—had been taken with her as security.
Rozan skillfully tells her story through the use of Rosalie's letters home to her Mother, who is waiting, with her Uncle Horst, for passage out of Austria, and also through the diaries of Rosalie's sister in law. The unearthing of these documents involves a lot of detective work, and none of them come from the same source, though all of them are tied to Rosalie's descendants, who now live in New York. When Joel is murdered and Lydia is fired—supposedly to keep her safe—by the Holocaust recovery agent, she stubbornly refuses to give up on Rosalie, and it will be difficult for any reader to give up on her either. Luckily Bill decides to step back into Lydia's life, and they work the case together.
The customs of modern day Chinatown, contrasted with the customs of an older China and the story of the Japanese occupation (where resident Jews were eventually put into a ghetto, though they were allowed to leave the ghetto to work and go to school) is seamlessly intertwined, though I won't say I wasn't sometimes unhappy to be wrenched away from Rosalie's story. As it happens, the narrator of the book, Lydia Chin, feels the same way and she is just as saddened by Rosalie's fate as I was as a reader. When I asked the author about it, telling her how attached I had gotten to Rosalie, she said: "I thought to myself that even if she hadn't died young she would have been dead by now," though she admitted it didn't make he feel all that much better either. The characters and the setting, as well as the historical lesson, make this novel an absolute standout, one you won't have to have read any others in the series to enjoy.
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