Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No Colder Place (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #4)No Colder Place by S.J. Rozan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"There's no place colder than a construction site. [...] the chill that pulls the warmth from your bones while you're working, the wind that blows through steel and concrete carrying the ancient dampness of echoing caves."

I am livid. Until the last 35 pages I felt this was a great book, one of the best books in the PI genre that I can remember. At least a four-star rating. But then the author resorts to the tired, cliché, theatrical ending that reminds me of the badly dated noir movies of the 1950s. S.J. Rozan's No Colder Place (1997) won the Anthony Award for the best novel in 1998: I wholeheartedly agree provided we remove the last 35 pages of the book. Why is the author - who is clearly capable of speaking with an original voice - determined to end most of her novels with a stock style of denouement? Why is the author defacing her great work?

The action takes place mainly on a construction site in New York. Bill Smith is subcontracted by another PI to investigate problems on the site: tools have been stolen, construction equipment has vanished, and one of the crane operators has disappeared. The owners of the construction company suspect one of the foremen and want to catch him at wrongdoing. Mr. Smith, who had worked as a bricklayer in his past, gets hired as a mason to watch the crew and find out what is going on. The tension on the site escalates when the body of the crane operator is found. Lydia Chin, Smith's partner and undying target of his romantic interest, is hired as a secretary in the construction site office to help with the investigation.

The story is interesting, moves fast, and - what's most important - is logical and plausible. But the best thing about the novel is that the plot is firmly grounded in labor relations conflicts, and additionally complicated by racial issues. The passages about the assault on the construction site conducted by the "full employment coalition" and its ramifications are the high points of the novel. The whole thread featuring the "Strength Through Jobs/Jobs Through Strength" organization that arranges busloads of rioting people is superb. It is indeed rare to find a mystery so attuned to rhythms of social issues. Even better: the author does not find easy solutions in the superficial political correctness.

I find the construction site scenes and the conversations between the crew completely believable (disclaimer: my labor experience, dating to 49 years ago, is from a steel mill rather than construction site). I have also enjoyed various references to crew members who might be "connected" (wink, wink, Italians in New York, capisce?)

This is my fifth Bill Smith/Lydia Chin novel and once again it is Lydia's character which is superbly drawn. Once again I can fully believe she is a real person. Bill is more believable than usual - the author does not cheapen the plot with references to his traumatic past. Another highpoint of the novel is the scene on the ferry and Lydia's rescue of Bill. Clever, sweet and funny. And no guns are involved! No guns! If only the author could maintain this good form until the end...

Three and a half stars.

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