Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Worth the Worrying: Margaret Maron's New Judge Deborah Knott Mystery, CHRISTMAS MOURNING

Fans of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series will delight in number 16, released just in time to kindle the Christmas spirit -- family, friends, food, and even forgiveness. But as Judge Deborah Knott gets ready to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her marriage to Major Dwight Bryant, the chief deputy of the Colleton County (North Carolina) Sheriff's Department, her community is in chaos: After the recent auto accident deaths of two teens, a third in a coma, and a fourth so badly injured that she'll only be able to choreograph her cheerleading team, there's been an added one-car crash that's taken the life of popular Mallory Johnson, the "golden girl" of West Colleton High.

Maron's flawless narrative presents the possibility that this is "another" of those terrible distracted-teenage-driver deaths, due to cell phones, texting, and a touch of substance abuse. But Mallory has never indulged in booze or drugs, and was driving alone, on her way home. Knott and her husband are soon on their way to the "visitation hours" where the teenager's heartbroken parents endure long lines of neighbors and young people -- and where Dwight's canny mother, Miss Emily, lines up the first shreds of evidence that all's not what it seems in Mallory's life.

Deborah Knott hardly has time to explore the issues, though, because her large extended family is rushing with her toward Christmas, and even on her lunch breaks from the bench, she's racing to select and purchase gifts. And at home, there's the friction of living with Dwight's young son Cal, whose mother recently died. Not to mention the inevitable stresses among her siblings and half-siblings and in-laws and all their children, who are cousins closer than many siblings would be.

Moreover, Dwight's distracted by two more deaths, this time a pair of classic "bad boys" in the county. Only when Mallory's death and those of the Wentworth brothers start to connect will husband and wife -- or chief deputy and judge -- be on the same trail.

Each chapter opens with a snatch from a Christmas-related moment in a novel or mystery (I like the Agatha Christie ones especially!), and the movement of this dark cozy (or sweet noir?) pauses often for family scenes of affection and fun. Although there's plenty to mourn, and the roots of the deaths are dark and twisted, Maron makes it clear that life goes on, and can be good, even when bad things happen.

A chart of Knott's family is at the front of the book, and as a first-time reader in her series, I found it handy. It was the right amount of "boost" into a story that's already taken many twists (the 2009 volume was Sand Sharks) and clearly is headed into at least another volume. I was startled by Maron's trademark pauses in the action, interjected even as the detection and discoveries reach peak intensity -- and I was puzzled that Knott's friction at home with Cal didn't seem to resolve much over the course of this -- but I found plenty of suspense, and detailed views of rural North Carolina culture that make CHRISTMAS MOURNING very much a mystery of a particular landscape and community. It's a quiet pleasure to read; just be warned -- in spite of all the food mentioned, there are no recipes!

Which again says, this isn't a typical "cozy" offering. It's more intense, more unexpected, and more insightful -- as befits an author as seasoned and wise as Margaret Maron.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Security Agent in Danger: HERON ISLAND by R. A. Harold

It's time to double-check the holiday lists, including those of gifts, and insert some fresh names and ideas. And the new mystery from Vermonter and Brooklynite R. A. (Roberta, or Robbie) Harold belongs on lots of those lists. A well-plotted and delicious surprise out of the "historicals," HERON ISLAND draws on the labor unrest of President Roosevelt's time, complete with European anarchists, hidden Jews, and merchant princes of the rich American landscape -- economic and political leaders who summered in special locations, including Vermont's Lake Champlain.

Meet Dade Wyatt, who left behind a stage career and rode as a Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill. In service -- with full loyalty demanded -- to paper tycoon Warren Dodge, Wyatt's job as of 1903 is to protect the Dodge family and its prestigious guests. And with the President himself booked into the Dodges' summer quarters on a large island on the lake, Wyatt needs to make sure no unexpected threats are likely to materialize. Could there be violent anarchists in the state, like the one who murdered President McKinley (a death that Wyatt failed to prevent)?

When the husband of lovely and flirtatious Milly Van Dorn turns up dead on the island, there's every reason to hope the death is due to accident. But Wyatt already knows too much to accept that verdict. And the mysterious sorrow of his own past is alerting him to emotional complexities around him.

Harold's hefty narrative -- more than 400 pages -- never grows dull. Details of crime, poverty, and policing are deftly woven into Wyatt's investigations. And although he finds threats to himself as well as to the elegant people he shepherds, he methodically clears away any motives from two trustworthy men -- his boss, and the Louisiana-born cook to the household -- and draws on a new friendship with a Scottish police detective from New York, and soon he has a team able to cope with the complications and criminals on the scene. Whether the President's visit can be allowed, though, that's still a question -- Dodge needs the President to come, but not if there's going to be danger beyond the Rough Rider's reasonable adventure!

Read the first chapter of HERON ISLAND on Harold's website, http://raharold.com, where you can also enjoy Robbie Harold's conversational style and get some details of her own variegated background. I'm glad to say there's already a second Dade Wyatt mystery, done and awaiting publication. And we have a few signed copies of this first one, on the shelves at Kingdom Books.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Top Ten Books -- The Lists Arrive!

Today's New York Times included in the Holiday Gift Guide several great lists of "top ten books" by subject or reviewer. I jumped up and down in excitement when I saw two of my favorite 2010 mysteries/crime fiction on reviewer Janet Maslin's list: Tana French's stirring FAITHFUL PLACE (Irish noir, worth reading multiple times) and the newest Lee Child/Jack Reacher title, 61 HOURS.

My own list (if I could decide!) would definitely also include Stuart Neville's COLLUSION (his second, and I do recommend reading its predecessor, The Ghosts of Belfast, first for maximum enjoyment) and Lisa Brackmann's very modern, sometimes funny, and often gripping suspense set in today's China, ROCK PAPER TIGER.

I'm in the midst of reading R. A. Harold's remarkable HERON ISLAND -- a Vermont book that turns out to be a tightly plotted mystery. More on that, tomorrow. Considering how excited I am at the halfway point this evening, this is another I might add to my "best of 2010" list ... as well as an armful of the international mysteries from Soho Crime, and the latest Donna Leon (the comfort food of crime fiction), the weird wonders by Dave Zeltserman, my discovery fof how very good indeed Carla Neggers and Charlaine Harris are on the "other side" of the mystery genre (the romantic side), and several espionage titles. I'll be posting the nicely refined 10-item lists of many other writers and reviewers as we move toward the end of 2010. What a great year for good books!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you a day of good food, family, and friends, in perfect proportions. I'm immensely grateful for freedoms of speech, images, conversations ... and movement around the country.

I'm catching up on some Vermont fiction this week; back to mysteries tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mystery Writers of America Announces Grand Master of Mystery and Raven Awards

Mark the calendar for New York City on April 28, to celebrate greatnews from the Mystery Writers of America!  Sara Paretsky has been chosen as the group's 2011 Grand Master, announced last week. MWA's Grand Master Award "represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality." I'm determined to attend when Paretsky is presented with her award at The Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2011.

The MWA press release says, "Paretsky revolutionized the mystery world in 1982 with her novel Indemnity. The book introduced detective V.I. Warshawski, a female private investigator who used her wits and fists, challenging a genre in which women typically played minor or passive roles."

Good thing there's a long winter ahead before the awards, so there's time to read or re-read Paretsky's twelve best-selling Warshawski novels. (She also wrote a memoir, two stand-alone novels, and a collection of short stories. How many can we shelve between now and then?)

Paretsky's awards in the past include one from MS Magazine in 1987 for her work in founding Sisters in Crime. On the international scene she's also drawn attention: The British Crime Writers awarded Paretsky both the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement and the Gold Dagger for best novel of 2004.

I like this part of the MWA press release especially:
"The mystery genre took a seven-league stride thanks to Sara Paretsky, whose gutsy and dauntless protagonist showed that women can be tough guys, too," said Larry Light, Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. "Before, in Sara's words, women in mysteries were either vamps or victims. Her heroine, private eye V.I. Warshawski, is whip-smart and two-fisted, capable of slugging back whiskey and wrecking cars, and afire to redress social injustice."
In a surprise double award, MWA also announced that two mystery bookstores receive the 2011 Raven Award that recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing: Once Upon a Crime, in Minneapolis, MN, and Centuries & Sleuths in Chicago. The Ravens also will be presented at the Edgar Award Banquet in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2011. Gotta be there!!

Paretsky's Warshawski books:
Indeminity Only (1982)
Deadlock (1984)
Killing Orders (1985)
Bitter Medicine (1987)
Blood Shot (1988) (aka Toxic Shock)
Burn Marks (1990)
Guardian Angel (1992)
Tunnel Vision (1994)
Hard Time (1999)
Total Recall (2001)
Blacklist (2003)
Fire Sale (2005)
Hardball (2009)
Body Work (2010)

Paretsky comments on the award on her blog: http://www.saraparetsky.com/2010/11/edgar-allen-poe-awards

Monday, November 15, 2010

What Hides in the Dark? Tragedy -- and Love. A cry of loss and wonder, for John le Carré's OUR KIND OF TRAITOR

U.S. cover
We learned it first in The Godfather -- probably the film version, even more than the book: The tension and horror of living on the criminal side of life can turn family into the most precious necessity of all. Murder, blackmail, and abuse can all be accompanied by a blinding love that engulfs people and binds them together. And self-sacrifical human love tastes like redemption, even when there's a police officer waving a WANTED sheet with your face on it and the face of your child, your father, your mother.

In OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, John le Carré presents a vivid overview of global politics of the day, braided as it is with billions of dollars, vicious forms of trafficking, and petty jealousies among bureaucrats. But he opens brilliantly with a young English couple who are as close to innocent as one can be in the 21st century: Perry Makepiece (yes, assume the pun is intended), who has just decided to leave his posh Oxford life and devote himself to ordinary teaching. And his Significant Other (together five years but not married), Gail -- a young lawyer just attaining effectiveness in her career, but also a woman who can't walk away from two little girls who've just become orphaned, or from their teenaged half-sister, pregnant by a Swiss-German cad who'll never do the right thing by her. In this, Gail's tenderness of heart is echoed by the compassion and loyalty that Perry is about to experience toward a man seeking his help.

The trouble is, the man seeking Perry's help -- for him and his extended family -- is a top-tier Russian criminal who's been laundering money for the mob for a lifetime, and whose newly personal betrayal by his Russian mob brotherhood is realistic, grief-stricken, and compelling. And as Perry and Gail are forced to admit to the British intelligence agents who eventually grill them: It's irresistible to get involved. It's not just the clinging arms of the little girls, or the Russian tears of Dima the money-laundering head of his fractured family -- it's the importance that Perry and Gail now have. Because to Dima, Perry represents the most important aspect of Britain: fair play. Dima even entrusts to Perry his plea for sanctuary, along with a tiny cassette of proof of his value to the British, to the entire Western world, to the forces of goodness and justice:
'Dima sank into himself for a while, woke up, seemed puzzled I was there, resented my presence, then decided I was all right, then forgot me again and put his hands over his face and muttered to himself in Russian. Then he stood up, and fished around in his satin shirt, and yanked out the little package I included in my document,' [Perry] went on. 'Handed it to me, embraced me. It was an emotional moment.'

'For both of you.'

'In our separate ways, yes, it was. I think it was.'

He seemed suddenly in a hurry to go back to Gail.

'Any instructions to accompany the packade at all?' Hector asked, while little B-list Luke beside him smiled to himself over his neatly folded hands.

'Sure. "Take this to your apparatchiks, Professor. A present from Wold Number One money-launderer. Tell them I want fair play." Exactly as I wrote in my document.'
Perry turns his life and loyalty over to Hector and Luke, in their roles as potential rescuers of the grieving Russian super-criminal. Gail isn't quite as trusting -- but she'll do it all, anyway, for the sake of the pregnant teenager who needs a wise mother/older sister so desperately.

And then, through chapter upon chapter of attentive, caring, detailed interrogation -- reminiscent of the loving labors of le Carré's earlier masterful character George Smiley, even to the point of similar phrases and cadence -- what Dima actually needs and what Perry and Gail pledge themselve to obtain for him unfold.

Le Carré embeds so much love, parental, brotherly, and sacrificial, in the novel that the powerful ending insists on being read as a tenderness too, even though it's as hopeless and disastrous as the notion of "fair play" always appears to be, in the face of Big Bucks and pervasive bullying and misinformation. I was touched especially, after finishing the book, to find a review from the Scandinavian master of modern crime fiction, Henning Mankell, praising this powerful novel. Mankell wrote in The Telegraph: "John le Carré’s fury and his ability to put into words a story about our world are sharp. But he does it in a subtle and intimate way. His intention, perhaps, is to make us slow down, so that we can and will reflect upon what he has to say."

British cover
It will help if you've read the earlier work of this British spy-turned-novelist, John le Carré, because you may then appreciate even more the masterwork here, reading with a sense of awe and terror and hope. But the book is a stand-alone, and in spite of the desolation it reveals, it also speaks to the best in all of us.

How much will each of us sacrifice, to make sure there is "fair play" in our world?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brazilian Crime Fiction: Leighton Gage, EVERY BITTER THING

Hearing about a work-in-progress from the author always makes me curious. And when Leighton Gage said his fourth Brazilian crime novel was the best yet, I had to grab the first available copy and charge right through it.

Gage was right: The buildup of his Chief Inspector Mario Silva investigations -- first Blood of the Wicked, then Buried Strangers and Dying Gasp -- have given him fresh intensity and the skills to pack detail upon detail in unrelenting suspense and intensity. Moreover, EVERY BITTER THING is a smooth and elegant read, tightly focused on the police investigation led by Chief Inspector Silva and his team.

The book opens with the murder of a wealthy and recently divorced oil worker, and blossoms, two deaths later, with the discovery of the body of a politically connected gay man. Luckily for homicide investigator Walter Pereira, Silva is alert to the need to include ALL of the crime details in any explanation of a killing. And that means he quickly eliminates Pereira's effort to blame a rejected gay lover of the murder man -- and holds off the investigator's efforts to "solve" things right away.

Almost at once, Silva's team and the data available reveal the existence of one murderer and four deaths -- at least, four counted so far. And homosexual jealousy doesn't fit as a motive for the other three situations. Silva's sidekick Arnaldo Nunes sums up the discoveries to Silva:
"I know, I know, don't even bother to say it. The MO is just too similar. It's the same killer. But it doesn't necessarily follow that the victims are connected. We could be dealing with some sick bastard who picks them at random."

"That's possible."

"But you don't think it's likely?"

"No, I don't."
That MO (modus operandi), by the way, involves a particularly sadistic killing sequence that starts with a nonfatal bullet to the belly. Ouch.

Gage, who adopted Brazil long ago as one of his well-loved homes, adeptly paints the political pressures that keep Silva on this set of cases, a drop in the bucket of the homicides that haunt urban Brazil, where wide gulfs in income, festering corruption, and nearly limitless violence are braided together with disastrous results.

Most appealing in EVERY BITTER THING is the attention to procedure, to inquiry and testing of hypotheses, and to the slow circle that traps the killer. More forms of prejudice, not just against homosexuals, threaten to distract the investigation -- but in the long run, Silva has the skills to dodge the politics around him and keep his team on task.

Although it's a pleasure to see this series blossom in fine writing and immaculate plotting, nothing from the earlier books is needed to enjoy this fourth one. I did miss some of the tension that Gage crafted in the other books in terms of Silva's personal life -- but his political survival takes center stage in EVERY BITTER THING, and Silva and Gage together have what it takes.

Fun & Spooky: Pix from 2010 New England Crime Bake

L-R, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Dennis Lehane, Charlaine Harris

(L) Julia Spencer-Fleming, (R) Charlaine Harris

Yours truly, garbed for the vampire banquet

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Writing for Suspense: Dennis Lehane, David Hosp, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Raffi Yessayan

Yours truly, masked for the vampire banquet.
Julia Spencer-Fleming made plain her philosophy this morning: Suspense lies in the character, rather than the plot. Dennis Lehane emphasized storytelling, suggesting that people who already know they're not good storytellers should avoid writing careers. David Hosp described the outlining process that he heard about from Robin Cook, as well as Jeffrey Deaver, saying that Cook does a 200-page outline first -- at which point Lehane cut in to say, "And then what, he adds verbs?" And Raffi Yessayan pointed to his training as a trial lawyer, where you'd better know your closing address to the jury before you start producing evidence at the trial -- and said the same thing applies to writing suspense.

All of which demonstrates the wide variety in writers, writing methods, and advice available at the New England Crime Bake this weekend. Lehane in particular quoted from playwright David Mamet on "how to progress the story," adding, "You can never exit a scene with the same energy that you enter it, so a scene is about a change of energy." And he urged writing "up" for readers -- make the assumption that a savvy reader is already guessing ahead of the plot, is "already there."

Lehane's final blunt comment was about a scene beginning with a "want" -- and ending when the character does or doesn't get it. "The bottom line is not that a character gets what they want -- who cares what they want? -- it's that they get what they need."

And that's as good a description as any for the reasons 250 people from across the country (and Canada) gathered for the Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of America event.

Me, I got a lot of what I wanted -- face time with strong writers of mystery in its many subgenres, signatures on some first editions of their work, some playtime at the vampire banquet, and a lot of laughing and "a-ha" moments that I guess I needed, because they felt pretty good.

Coming tomorrow: a look at the latest Brazilian mystery from Leighton Gage, EVERY BITTER THING.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Charlaine Harris at New England Crime Bake: News!

Charlaine Harris
So you thought yesterday's question about whether the Harry Potter books could be seen as mysteries had an open-and-shut answer, right? Hey, today at the New England Crime Bake volunteers session (stuffing registration bags in the morning), everyone who described themselves as sci fi/fantasy readers said H.P. is NOT in the mystery genre -- and everyone who was a die-hard mystery reader instead said "Well, yeah, those books fit into mysteries, of course!"

Which is a good platform for what happened this evening: Charlaine Harris is the guest of honor at the 2010 New England Crime Bake, and the after-pizza entertainment was a viewing of Episode 9 from TRUE BLOOD, Season 2: "I Will Rise Up." For those who don't view HBO programs, True Blood is a series featuring vampires, werefolk, the fey, and as central protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, a sweet Southern girl with enormous courage and loyalty (and sex drive). She's featured in one of Charlaine Harris's series of books.

Harris is probably best known among "cozy" mystery readers for her murder mysteries featuring librarian Aurora Teagarden. The Sookie Stackhouse series has been renamed the Southern Vampire Series -- and one day when producer Alan Ball was early for a dentist appointment (said the author this evening) he picked up a Sookie book at a Barnes & Noble store -- and the next day, bought all the rest of the series, developing TRUE BLOOD as the sequel to his earlier TV series Six Feet Under.

And I would have said it's absolutely sci fi/fantasy -- with its mixture of beings -- and yet, here's the author with her series, headlining a truly fine little (250 people) mystery conference.

So ... I'm stretching my mind this evening.

A few tidbits from Ms. Harris's answers after the TRUE BLOOD airing: When she watched the first episode on screen, "It was so much beyond anything I'd ever seen or expected -- it was like seeing myself translated into another language." To the woman who said "I love the books more," Harris replied cheerfully, "Thank you! Loving the books more is absolutely acceptable, especially if you love them more in hardback." She acknowledged that she's under contract to write two more Sookie books (numbers 12 and 13) but doubts that she'll go further than number 14.

And the big news of the evening: She's inking a deal with CBS to translate onto the screen her Harper Connelly books.

More notes tomorrow ... and photos when I get home. I failed to bring the cable that transfers the good camera's images onto the computer ... so here's a nice fuzzy cell-phone snap of Charlaine Harris with pen in hand at the Crime Bake:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Genre Lines: Harry Potter, Mystery??

Mysteries are my bread-and-butter, my meat and potatoes, my chocolate cake with raspberry ganache. Every now and then, I detour into other areas though, and somehow I always excuse the sidetracks as being related to mysteries -- through plotting, character development, tension maintained, you name it.

At the moment, in between all other tasks, I'm taking a swift flight through the Harry Potter books, in anticipation of the movie release on Nov. 19 (one of two movies that will cover book 7; the second film waits until 2011). Intrigued by the parallels of "good but flawed person with supportive friends seeks route to disarming the criminal," I'm wondering: Has anyone labeled the Harry Potter books as mysteries? Or are they so typical of the magic-quest-fantasy genre that they can't be cross-linked?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lehane; Parshall; and a Look Ahead

The week after you finish writing a novel is a low-key one, so I'll just add a couple of notes this evening. One is: Hurrah, the new Dennis Lehane crime novel, MOONLIGHT MILE, is making waves everywhere. It's a tough book to review, because the first chapter opens with a shock for those (like me) who've read and re-read Gone, Baby, Gone and seen the film version multiple times. I checked Lehane's website, and here's what it offers:
Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from a Boston neighborhood twelve years ago. Desperate pleas for help from the child's aunt led investigators Kenzie and Gennaro to take on the case. The pair risked everything to find the young girl—only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and a broken home.

Now Amanda is sixteen—and gone again. A stellar student, brilliant but aloof, she seemed destined to escape her upbringing. Yet Amanda's aunt is once more knocking on Patrick Kenzie's door, fearing the worst for the little girl who has blossomed into a striking, clever young woman—a woman who hasn't been seen in weeks. 
OK, that's not bad. Amanda is, of course, the little girl who got kidnapped in Gone, Baby, Gone. Turns out that's about all I can say, though, without spoiling Lehane's adventures. So ... if you want a review full of spoilers anyway, check out the one from the New York Times. (And I appreciate reviewer Janet Maslin pointing out that the book's title is from a Rolling Stones song.) Otherwise, here's the short clean version: Everything in this volume unfolds with bursts of surprise, and also with simultaneous gasps of "Oh, of course, that would have to follow from what's in the earlier book!" It's a classic sequel, smoothly written and ready for film.

Next: I'm keeping an eye on the New England Crime Bake, the annual conference for crime fiction readers and writers, co-sponsored by Mystery Writers of America and the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime. Dozens of published authors will be on hand for the sold-out event this weekend, including Lehane and featuring Charlaine Harris, whose Sookie Stackhouse series is the basis for the TV vampire series True Blood. In the process of frantically trying to catch up with the work of the folks who will be there, I picked up BROKEN PLACES by Sandra Parshall. This was a slight miscalculation on my part, since Parshall is the sane, steady voice managing much of the SinC listserv, but isn't going to be at the New England event (she lives in northern Virginia). On the other hand, her book caught me and kept me reading -- the character of veterinarian Rachel Goddard, with her fine-tuned affinity for dogs and cats and other creatures, is fully mature, well drawn, and impeccably braided into a tight plot of murder, risk, loss, and survival. This one's a keeper, and I'll be looking for a copy of Parshall's first book, her Agatha Award winner (for Best First Novel), The Heat of the Moon.

Coming sometime this weekend: a long look at the latest Brazil crime novel from Leighton Gage, EVERY BITTER THING -- releasing on November 16, perfectly timed to provide distraction as needed, as the American holiday season races toward us all.

PS: I'm not being coy about my own writing -- there's occasional news about it at http://BethKanell.blogspot.com. It's just that all the months of searching for the right words can leave a person a wee bit speechless by the end.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Henry Chang, RED JADE: Taking the Simple Out of Crime

The call that wakes NYPD Detective Jack Yu seems like a simple case of mild political pull: A Chinatown group that's helped the police force (yes, donations) wants a Chinese cop on the scene to investigate a murder-suicide of a young couple. Jack might wish his connections in Brooklyn held him close to his new home, but it's the old one in the Ninth Precinct that keeps pulling him back.

RED JADE is the third book from Henry Chang, an American with Chinese heritage, raised in New York's Chinatown (and still living there). Chinatown Beat and Year of the Dog preceded this one; together, they make up Chang's Chinatown Trilogy, but RED JADE doesn't tie off all the strands Chang has juggled through the series. The opening crime of the book makes it clear that Detective Yu is webbed and tied to his cityscape, where the echoes of his life resonate among the echoes of multiple Chinese cultures. Yes, multiple ... Chang's books make it clear that "Chinese" is a gathering term for Fukienese, Toishanese, people of backgrounds that vary as much as a Tennessee crowd varies from a Minnesota one. And Jack Yu's life is embedded with all of these. A mere twelve minutes in a Chinese car service takes him from his Brooklyn home to the crime scene at Seven Doyers:
Jack knew the street well; it was around the corner from where he'd grown up, where his pa had passed away recently. And around the corner from where his former blood brother Tat "Lucky" Louise had met his fate: shot in the head, he was now comatose at Downtown Hospital.
And the street is in the territory of the Ghost Legion gang. So it's almost a letdown when Jack discovers almost immediately that the crime is an open-and-shut case: a depressed young mother, separated from her husband and children, trying to leave her marriage, killed by her despondent husband who can't take the shame of her departure. He even writes a poem to explain himself, before shooting her and then himself:
Black Clouds
have covered the sky
like ink.
The whirlwind
sweeps in
from the rivers.
Even the air itself
Is frozen.

A growing sorrow
I cannot bear.
All this sorrow and shame is good grounding, though, for Jack's deepening understanding of why the crimes he's investigated in the two preceding rounds haven't resolved: Fat Uncle Four's mistress Mona, an expert at inciting crime, has shamed too many powerful people. To catch up with her, and confront the forces of East Coast and West Coast Chinatowns and even mainland China chasing her, Jack launches his own cross-country chase -- one that just happens to dovetail with the movements of a woman prosecutor who interests him personally, Alexandra Lee-Chow. And whether the two of them can ever connect across their professions and especially across Jack's stockpiled caution and reserve ... well, that's looking as chancy as the possibility of catching Mona before her carefully planned luck (as rich as the luck of red jade) carries her away.

Chang's third volume challenges recent conventions of police procedurals, because (1) Jack's major detective efforts take place far from his own turf, (2) there's a huge amount of luck and feng shui involved in the arrangement of the book's components, and (3) much of the book is presented in very short segments of a page or two, with multiple points of view. It won't suit every taste. But it's highly effective in portraying the jagged fragments of Chinese heritage that make up the mosaic -- or even kaleidoscope -- of Detective Yu's motivations.

Red Jade Bracelet
A splash of triumph at the finale mingles with the dark tones of Tat Louie's continued coma and the ripples of malice and threat expanding from Mona's struggles to escape her destiny. Jack Yu's career in criminal detection seems likely to continue beyond Chang's original trilogy -- but now is a good time to make sure you've got all three books. I'm re-reading them; the presence of the Chinese-become-Americans is finally emerging from the shadows in a torrent of recent fiction as well as memoir, and these will stay on my shelf.