So, Lydia Chin is approached by a potential client who is clearly lying about his identity about some paintings that are rumored to be in New York, and potentially on sale soon. This client really wants to establish a name for himself in Contemporary Chinese Art, and owning these paintings -- preferably before they go on sale -- will go a long way toward that. Here's the trick, no one knows if they really do exist, or where they might be. Still the rumors persist, and in the "where there's smoke, there's fire" kind of thinking, they've got to exist. The trick is that the artist was killed in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The client wants her to find them, prove they're real (ideally), and help him get the leg up on the competition.
Like I said, Lydia doesn't trust the man, and doesn't understand why he picked her, but his cash is good and she's curious (about him, the paintings, why he might want the paintings). So she takes the case, but doesn't know where to start. Luckily, her partner, Bill Smith knows just the guy to talk to -- another Chinese PI. Second generation ABC, from the Midwest, Jack Lee has an art degree and mostly looks into stolen and questionable art. Really, he's the ideal PI to look for these paintings -- and it turns out that someone else thought so, too and already hired him to do that. The three decide to work together on this, each playing to their own strengths.
From there, they dive deep into the New York Art Scene -- at least those that brush up against Chinese Art -- there are people who care about art, people who care about influence and money, and those who really, really care about art. Some care so much that Jack Lee gets shot at more than once. There are other threats as well -- the idea that Chau might still be alive is a pretty hot political topic, and various governmental entities seem interested in what Lydia is up to.
The case is pretty interesting -- and the various people that the trio interacts with are so interesting, so colorful, occasionally so despicable. The solution that Lydia cooks up is worthy of Blackadder's Baldrick, but I kind of liked it. It works as a solution in a novel (I hope nothing like this would happen in real life). The ultimate reveal was a bit too obvious, but I still enjoyed it -- and the rest of the mystery made up for it.
I've said time and time again, I love reading the back-and-forth between Lydia and Bill -- adding Jack to that seems like a gamble. Thankfully, it worked wonderfully, he fits in with the two of them so wonderfully well that you wish he'd been around for a couple of novels previously to this. It almost doesn't matter if the plot behind the book was entertaining, just get the three of these guys around a beverage or two and it's worth it.
On the one hand, I'm kind of with Lydia in not understanding why someone would come to her to look for this -- art isn't her thing. On the other hand, she dealt with art dealers in China Trade, Chinese heirlooms in Reflecting the Sky, missing jewels in The Shanghai Moon (which yeah, is sort of precious minerals, but the art aspect of the Moon seems as/more important than the gems). So it's not like she's an utter novice. Sure, going to Bill Smith or Matt Scudder would seem like a bad move -- but Lydia's a good choice for this case (not as obvious a choice as Jack Lee, I grant you). And how could I not think of another PI in New York?
There was one thing I was disappointed in: I was truly hoping/expecting that this book would contain a clue (if not more) about why this was the last book to be published in the series -- and given the 6 years that have passed since then, it seems pretty likely that this was it for the series. I'm assuming that it wasn't planned, but can't find any information about it (which means that someone's going to come along in half an hour with a link to 15,000 words about the reason for this.) Update: A few hours after posting this on my blog, Rozan assured me that the series is not over, which is great to hear
A fun, fast-paced read that is enjoyable, engaging and all around entertaining -- which is pretty much a great way to describe any novel from Lydia Chin's point of view. Give this one a shot and then pick up the others (or pick up the others, and then this one -- either way).