Lydia Chin thought her latest case was going to be fairly simple. All fashion designer Genna Jing asked her to do was drop off the ransom so she could retrieve her stolen designs in time for her upcoming showing. At least it looked very simple. But the drop goes terribly awry, shots are fired, and Lydia loses both the design book and the money. In response, Genna fires Lydia, but that hardly deters the determined private investigator from finding out who is responsible for the theft. Her quest for the truth, leads to a dangerous mix of call girls, drugs, extortion and a couple of murders in Mandarin Plaid, an absolutely wonderful mystery novel that thoroughly enchants and engages the reader. Mandarin Plaid is the third in the Lydia Chin series of mystery novels and this reviewer can’t wait to run out and get the rest.
There are many elements that qualify this novel for DIK status. First is Lydia Chin herself – an absolutely wonderful character. She’s fun, feisty and follows her instincts when it comes to solving crimes. She’s sometimes a bit reckless, but never foolish and would rather talk her way out of a dicey situation than come face to face with danger. I enjoyed her views of herself, as a woman and as a Chinese-American living in a country that sees a double minority as herself in a stereotypical manner. Lydia is such a engaging character that she bucks stereotypes without being strident. However, she’s not above using those stereotypes when it suits her investigative work, especially in a hilarious scene where she invades a sweatshop.
One of the best things about this novel is Lydia’s supporting cast. I loved her quirky relationship with her family. She and her mother, a woman who refuses to speak English and makes no bones about hiding her disdain for her daughter’s “unladylike” profession, have a warm and witty relationship that despite their bickering, is clearly full of love and respect. I also enjoyed her bond with her gay brother Andrew. He too doesn’t like the idea of his baby sister putting her life in danger, but knows that she is not only good at what she does, but her job is what makes her who she is. Their complicated sibling relationship also adds a poignant note to the novel.
But the most intriguing relationship in Mandarin Plaid is Lydia’s tentative romance with her partner Bill Smith. Their chemisty is obvious with every scene they share together and seems like a simmering stew just waiting to boil over. Their banter is at times funny, other times moving and touching. Bill, an ex-cop with a mysterious past, is a character that we, like Lydia, want to figure out and know more about, especially after there is a revelation about Bill that portends to come into play in a future novel.
If that weren’t enough, the other characters, both major and minor, from suspects to bit players, are all well drawn and multi-dimensional and come alive on the page. The prose is smooth, clean and descriptive, bringing the images and details of New York’s Chinatown to vivid evocativeness.
With all this, it’s amazing that the mystery itself is so wonderful. It is a well drawn one, with plenty of twists and turns and red herrings. The investigation, frought with moments that mix suspense, danger and humor, leads to an exciting conclusion and the identity of the villian was a surprise to this reader. All the various plot strands were nearly tied up, with no loose ends or unanswered questions lying about.
Mandarin Plaid is one of the best mystery novels I have read in years. I can’t wait to plunge into Lydia Chin’s past and present adventures and eagerly await her future ones as well.