Monday, May 24, 2010

Review of Trail of Blood by S.J. Rozan (Ebury Press, 2009)

Lydia Chin tries to mix being a dutiful daughter with operating as a private investigator, but doesn’t always get the balance right. Having recently returned to New York from a trip to California, she’s hired by her mentor, Joel Pilarsky, to help Alice Fairchild, who specialises in holocaust asset recovery, to trace a Chinese official who has fled China with some valuable jewellery. The Shanghai Moon is a mythical brooch formed from two other pieces – jade from an heirloom of a Chinese dynasty and diamonds from an Austrian Jew’s necklace. The necklace belonged to the mother of Rosalie Gilder. Rosalie and her younger brother Paul were amongst the twenty thousand European Jews who made their way to Shanghai before the second world war, her mother hoping to get a later boat, but never making it. Fairchild claims to be representing the interests of the children of Rosalie’s uncle and is keen to reunite the missing jewellery with the family. Whilst trying to track down the missing official, Lydia starts to become acquainted with Rosalie’s story through a number of letters now housed in a holocaust museum. But when Pilarsky is shot dead, the case takes a more sinister turn as it becomes clear that a number of people hope to gain possession of the famed, Shanghai Moon.

Trail of Blood had a number of common characteristics with Fred Vargas’, Have Mercy on Us All, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Like Vargas’ book, the novel has a strong historical component, with the present day story very much connected to family and wider political and social events in the past. Similarly, it trundles along at a fairly quick pace, has good backstory, appealing characters, and interesting plot. That said, the story had a number of elements that I found detracted from my enjoyment. Sometimes the storytelling is a little too explicit, with some clear plot devices used to introduce certain pieces of information or push the story in a particular direction. There are a number of somewhat implausible coincidences and conveniences in terms of people being in the same places at the same time or having access to certain knowledges or information that are very difficult to locate and highly specialised. The dialogue was a little clunky at times and did not always have an authentic ring. And for me, the book was at least fifty pages too long. I noticed that it is published as The Shanghai Moon in the US, which is actually a much better and more appropriate title than the rather generic, Trail of Blood. Overall, a fairly entertaining read, but could have been much more given the strength of the conceptual idea underpinning it.

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