ON THE LINE – S. J. Rozan (review by Gloria Feit)

What, exactly is “on the line” in this newest novel from S. J. Rozan is nothing more nor less than the life of Lydia Chin.  For the uninitiated, Lydia, a young ABC [American-Born Chinese, and described as ‘Chinatown’s only PI, with a non-Chinese partner her mom doesn’t like’], is the sometime partner of Bill Smith, a chain-smoking middle-aged white guy.  And no one writes protagonists of a different gender and ethnicity better than this master-craftsman [excuse me, make that ‘craftsperson’].

As the novel opens, early one morning late in the Fall in NYC Bill receives a call made from Lydia’s phone.  The caller, who doesn’t identify himself and whose voice is electronically altered, says that he has Lydia, and for Bill to get her back he will have to play a ‘game’ whose rules are laid out:  Bill will have to follow a series of clues that will be doled out to him in an unspecified manner, but he has only twelve hours to find her.  Of course, the game rules keep changing, and Bill has no idea who the kidnapper is.  He seeks help from Linus Wong, Lydia’s young cousin and a talented hacker, and Linus’ assistant, a teenage Goth girl named Trella.  The ‘game’ becomes much more complicated when Bill discovers the dead body of a young Chinese woman he thinks at first might be Lydia, but turns out to be that of a hooker.  Immediately after this discovery the cops turn up, and Bill soon finds himself hunted by the cops as well as by the girl’s pimp and his two very scary associates.  The game soon threatens the lives of several more young girls, with Lydia the prize for whoever wins.

The tension never lets up, with Bill desperately trying to obtain and then figure out the clues left for him in varying places all around the city, as well as identifying the man who hates him this much, because it is soon apparent that this is very, very personal.  The novel is exquisitely plotted, all leading up to a breathtaking denouement.   More than highly recommended, this one is a Must Read.

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