P.I. Bill Smith is sent on a high stakes chase when an electronically modified voice on his cell phone informs him that Lydia Chin, his occasional partner, has been kidnapped. Now if Bill wants to keep Lydia alive, he'll have to play an elaborate game of the kidnapper's devising. The first move sends him to an abandoned building wherein Bill finds the corpse of a small Chinese woman dressed like Lydia and discovers that the building is being rapidly surrounded by police. Now Bill is on the run from the cops and in the worst trouble of his very troubled life. With the help of Lydia's hacker cousin Linus, and Linus's cohort Trella, Bill has to not only stay one step ahead of the cops, he has to uncover the secret behind the kidnapper's identity and the reason he's come after Bill, if he's to reach Lydia before it's too late.
About the Author
S.J. ROZAN is the author of many critically acclaimed novels and has won most of crime fiction's greatest honors, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Macavity, and Nero Awards. She lives in New York.
Read an Excerpt
Crashing dark chords smothered the cell phone’s impertinent chirp, but the ringtone was “Ride of the Valkyries,” so it penetrated, and I stopped. I was learning a Brahms sonata. After weeks it had started to come together into something I could feel good about. So good that I was up working on it at what is, for me, early morning: half-past eight, with a mug of powerful black coffee, and a big, bright, late fall morning beyond the windows.
I hate interruptions when I’m at the piano; hate them so much, I used to turn the phone off. Now, though, I just ignore it if it rings. Except for this one number, the reason I leave it on. I leaned from the piano bench, grinning, and reached for the phone, which was still squeaking out those opening Valkyrie notes. In my world, Wagner only trumps Brahms when Wagner means Lydia Chin.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
Silence, unlike Lydia; and an odd tone to it. Then she said, “Nothing good.”
Those two words contained darkness: anger, fear, and something else. Warning? My skin went cold. “What does that mean?”
The answer didn’t come from Lydia. It came from a different voice, relaxed and mocking in rhythm, but inhuman in tone: thin, robotic. Deliberately, electronically altered. “It means, asshole, your girlfriend got jacked.”
I was on my feet, heart pounding. “What the—Who are you?”
“Come on, you don’t know me?”
“What’s going on?”
“Jesus Christ! You fucked up so many guys you can’t keep track!”
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“No.” In a flash, joviality gone, the metallic voice dropped. “It’s what you want. You want your girlfriend to live. Or am I wrong?”
“You’re right, and—”
“Then find her. It’s a game, get it? You find her, she lives. You don’t, she dies. You following that?”
“Whoever the hell you are, leave her alone. You have business with me, bring it on.”
“It’s on, buddy boy. And if I were you I’d get down to it.”
“Get down to what?”
“What did I just say?”
“How am I supposed to find her?”
“Well, lucky for you, I’m going to help. Clues, evidence, all that shit. I know you like that shit. So we’ll have fun. Now get going.”
“No. This is bullshit.”
“Then your girlfriend dies.”
“How do I know she’s not dead already?”
“You just talked to her!”
“I heard two words from a woman, and you have Lydia’s phone. That’s all I know.”
“Jesus, look! The son of a bitch is in the game already! Instant offense, whoa, I like that. Okay, good, I’ll go along. Here, sweetie. Talk to him.”
“Bill?” It was Lydia, which I’d known, rock solid, from those first two words.
“Are you okay?”
“So far. I don’t know what’s going on, though.”
“Stay cool. I’ll find you.”
“I know you will. But Bill? I don’t want my mother to worry. Looks like Tony, his birthday party, looks like I’ll miss it.” She stumbled over her words. “If I don’t show up he’ll call the apartment. Could you make some excuse? He already thinks I’m a ditz. Tell him he’ll have to get a little older without me.”
“Aw.” The robot voice sliced back in, dripping acid. “How sweet is that? Doesn’t want her mama to worry. Well, her mama’s gonna have lots to worry about, you don’t get your ass in gear.”
I spun, stared wildly around the room, as though he might materialize and I could lunge for him. Forcing myself still, I said, “I want to talk to her.”
“Sorry, you just did. One to a customer.”
“As this bullshit unfolds, what ever it is.”
“And by ‘bullshit,’ you mean … ?”
“This insanity! Your so-called game!”
“ ‘Insanity’? ‘So-called’? Oh, man, where’s your sportsmanship? Respect for the opponent, all that. You know, maybe I don’t want to play with you after all. Nah, on second thought, forget it. Of course, that means I pop your girlfriend. But I guess you don’t care. So long, sucker.”
The line went dead.
My heart had been speeding. Now it stopped. My breathing, my power to move, it all stopped. What the hell had I done? Played chicken with a madman, and lost. Lost Lydia. I stood rooted, for a second, an hour, a lifetime.
No! The words I couldn’t get out crashed around inside my skull. Not like this! This can’t be how it ends. Do something. There’s got to be—
The phone, Lydia’s music, rang again.
“Lydia? Are you—”
The robot voice: “Not her. Me. You in or out?”
“Screw you, you bastard, I’m in.” I realized I was soaked in sweat. “You think this is a goddamn game, I’ll play.” I took a breath, and did it again: “But only if I can talk to Lydia. So I know she’s all right. You touch her, you motherfucker, I’ll kill you.”
“Oh, oh, listen to him! Big man! Know what, I really should forget the game and kill her right now. What could you do about it? What, asshole? But I’ll give you a chance. I’ll play fair.”
“I talk to her. And you don’t touch her.” I dug in, praying my instincts were right. “Or I don’t play.”
“Are you listening? Who’s in charge here? You don’t find her, she dies. And you know what? You don’t play, I hurt her a lot and then she dies.”
“That’s your rules. My rules, as long as I’m playing, you don’t touch her, and I talk to her.”
A hell of a gamble, going head-to-head with him like this. I didn’t know who he was or what was going on. But if what he wanted was to kill Lydia he could have done that already, and he hadn’t. This “game” mattered to him.
“Hmm,” he finally said. “Okay, why not? But my rules: not whenever you want. You don’t get what you want in life, do you? Fuck knows I didn’t. Which would be your fault, motherfucker, if you remember.”
“I don’t remember. Tell me.”
“No way! This is awesome! Oh, hey, did I mention you have twelve hours? A game’s no fun without a clock. But we don’t need no stinkin’ refs. Cops come, cops even think about coming, she’s toast. I mean it, motherfucker. First badge I see, pow pow pow! You got the rules?”
“And I talk to her.”
“When you do something right. Like a reward. Oh, I love that! Yeah, good. I’ll call you. But if you’re thinking she can coach, fuggedabahdit. She has no idea where she is. And her phone, now that we got your attention, it’s trashed. I mean, you don’t think I’m that stupid?”
“I don’t know who you are, so maybe you are that stupid.”
The slashing laugh again. “Taunting! You could get called for that!” Then the instant hard freeze. “Okay, that’s it. This is crap. Let’s get down to it.”
“What am I supposed do?”
“You’re so smart. Figure it out.”
And he was gone.
I hit call back, but got Lydia’s voicemail. I cut off and waited. He’d have heard it ring; he’d know I wanted to talk. But my phone stayed silent.
Excerpted from On the Line by S. J. Rozan.
Copyright © 2010 by S. J. Rozan.
Published in October 2010 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There are some likable characters in this otherwise tiresome novel. Bill Smith is required to decipher various odd clues in order to find the missing Lydia Chin, who is being held hostage by an old enemy of Bill's. Should the clues be misinterpreted, which is the most likely thing, then she will die. yet they interpret the clues correctly only to find other obstacles in their way. Throughout the book I kept wondering why it was written.
A real disappointment. I'm a big fan of Rozan and the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. This novel is such a cliche the title ought to have been 'Cliche'. Smith must solve puzzles to save his partner from a kidnapper bent on revenge. A plot line so old and tired it can only wheeze its way along on this book. Rozan covers no new territory, the action is entirely predictable and her usual deft character development is entirely missing. The dialog is tired and overwrought, apparantly having Smith regularly melt down is supposed to develop tension. It only developed a headache for me. Do not waste your time or money on this book. Let's hope the next Rozan novel will be up to her usual standards.
It's great. The action starts immediately, there are many twists and turns, delightful (and some not so delightful) new characters appear and deep psychological motivations are revealed. It all takes place in NYC. There is tension, but it is not the usual tension between Bill Smith and Lydia Chin. Throughout the preceding series of novels and short stories these private investigators with very different personalities work on cases together and their relationship with each other. In this case, Lydia has been kidnapped and Bill, given strange clues by the kidnapper, must find her in a short time or she dies. As usual, SJ Rozan's writing, descriptions and attention to detail are excellent.
New York City P.I. Bill Smith is in a jam. The heavy drinking, heavy smoking, staunch loner is not only caught up in a case with deeply personal reverberations, but he can't work this case by himself. He's going to need help. And that won't make him happy, but it will make readers very happy with S.J. Rozan's new excellent roller coaster of a book, "On The Line", the 10th in her Bill Smith/Lydia Chin series. I had seen the name S.J. Rozan in mystery circles for a while. Her books were highly recommended by other mystery readers and authors (and that is quite a compliment), but for some reason it took me until this past July to finally pick up the first of her books. I read "China Trade" and I was hooked big time. I then eagerly read all nine of the books, one after the other, enjoying the well crafted plots and the complex and interesting characters as well as the settings mostly in New York City (especially Chinatown). "On The Line" was the first book in the series where I had to wait for its publication and it was worth the wait. I don't want to give away any more of the plot and spoil it for you in any way. I don't want to tell you about Bill's case. What I do want you to do is suggest that you grab this book and read it now! (It will be a more intense experience if you have read the other nine books, but the new one also can stand very solidly on its own.) My only problem? Waiting a year for the next adventure. Enjoy!
In New York City, private investigator Bill Smith receives a call from the cell phone of his partner Lydia Chin. However, she is not the voice on the other end; instead an unknown person claims to have abducted Lydia. Believing initially this is a sick prank; Bill knows Lydia has been kidnapped when she briefly gets on the phone. The culprit gives Bill twelve hours to save her life and the sleuth must adhere to the rules of the game, which include no cops and subject to change at the whim of the perpetrator. Bill scrambles to save the life of his partner, but NYPD suspects him of at least with one homicide during the hunt. He obtains needed assistance from Lydia's cyber guru cousin Linus Wong and her best friend police detective Mary Kee, but the psychopath owns the cat and mouse game as Lydia is the cheese. Mindful of the John Cena movie Twelve Rounds, On the Line is a fast-paced exhilarating thriller in which the predator makes and breaks and changes the rules turning the desperate hero into a puppet on a string. Loaded with action, readers will enjoy John's frantic tour of New York as time is running out for Lydia. Harriet Klausner