Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mandarin Plaid (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #3)Mandarin Plaid by S.J. Rozan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] I am not usually strolling through here with fifty thousand dollars, looking for the right trash can to drop it in."

Now a disappointment from S.J. Rozan: I could not get into Mandarin Plaid (1996) and had to work hard to finish reading. Neither is the story particularly interesting nor are the protagonists - who were so refreshingly different than the usual crime drama clichés in my first contact with Ms. Rozan’s work in Winter and Night - fascinating any more. I have not even been able to find a single sentence that could serve as a fitting epigraph so I use a random one from the first paragraph of the book.

This is a Lydia Chin (Ling Wan-ju) story but obviously Bill Smith is a very close second as to the frequency of appearance. Lydia's client is Genna, a fashion designer and the owner of the Mandarin Plaid fashion line. Spring line sketches have been stolen from her office and she hires Lydia to deliver the ransom to the thieves so that they do not make sketches public thus destroying Genna's promising fashion career.

Three interesting things about the novel save it from the bottom one-star rating: the frequent mentions of "factories" - New York sweatshops where Asian women who have recently arrived in the country and do not have legal immigration status work sewing garments in demeaning conditions. This helps the reader maintain the right perspective on the glamour of the world of fashion. The compelling portrait of the New York Chinatown is well rendered. And the passages on differences between Mandarin, Cantonese, and Fujianese made me really wish to have more time to delve into the topic.

The rest of the novel is a cliché structure built of cliché components. The characters are one-dimensional: several are cartoon-level caricatures. For instance, there is no way that detective Krch or Mrs. Eleanor Talmadge Ryan could be real people. The "chemistry" between Lydia and Bill begins getting on my nerves and much of their inane banter is as bad as in TV sitcoms - customized for maximum sell and ignoring psychology and plausibility. The silly climactic scene with the presence of obligatory guns is worthy of a bad movie. Why would a writer who is able to create a well-developed female detective character stoop to ending the plot with gun play is beyond me, but let's stop beating that horse.

I wonder how much of my dislike of this novel is due to its actual weaknesses: maybe it's just my personal aversion to series of novels with recurring characters. I will definitely read more installments of the series, but am not planning to give the author too many chances.

Two stars.

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