SJ Rozan’s latest Lydia Chin/Bill Smith title, Family Business, is a wonderful look at New York’s Chinatown, full of atmosphere and a strong sense of place. But it also addresses some complicated topics, starting on a small scale with Lydia’s own family dynamics, including her unstated “don’t ask/don’t tell” bargain with her very Chinese mother (who is maybe, just maybe, starting to warm up a little bit to the non-Chinese Smith) and her relationships with her four older brothers: two who think Smith is okay; one who thinks he’s great; and the fourth, who, in Lydia’s words, is “the only one who still dislikes [Smith] at all”. On a larger scale, Rozan also takes a look at the potential impacts, both good and bad, of gentrification on immigrant neighborhoods. And along the way, of course, there’s also a murder for Lydia and Bill to solve.
The story opens with the apparently natural death of Big Brother Choi, the long-time head of one of Chinatown’s larger tongs. As Lydia’s high-school physics prof told her, “nature abhors a vacuum…[a]nd so does power”. So Choi’s death throws the tong into some disarray, not least because he has left the group’s HQ building to his niece, Mel Wu, rather than to the tong itself. And the building is already a source of controversy because it is the final “hold-out” preventing the 20-story “Phoenix Towers” housing development from being built.
Lydia and Bill first get involved when Mel hires them to be discrete bodyguards during her visit to the building. Things really get messy, though, when the three find Choi’s lieutenant and heir apparent, Chang Yao-Zu, dead in the deceased Choi’s private quarters. And there’s no doubt this one is murder! Although the book starts off a little bit slow while setting all of this up, the story then takes off as Lydia and Bill try to keep Mel and her family safe, figure out who killed Chang, and avoid embarrassing Lydia’s stuffy brother, Tim – the one who still doesn’t like Bill.
I have personally been a fan of Rozan’s Chin/Smith series for years, from its beginnings in the 1990s right through Rozan’s multi-year hiatus in the 2010s. And I am thrilled that she has started writing titles in the series again, with three books since 2019. (See my review of The Art of Violence here.) Although Family Business is the fourteenth in the series, Rozan does a good job of providing enough background so both new and old readers can enjoy it. The story flows as smooth as silk, and is a great addition to the series. And I very much hope more titles are coming. I would like to thank Pegasus Books and Edelweiss for the advance review copy, and I apologize to them for not getting my review out before publication due to some health issues in my family
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