The return of Rozan's beloved, award-winning series - a long-missing piece of jewelry, the Shanghai Moon, has possibly resurfaced, leading Lydia Chin into the midst of a long-buried crime and a current murder.
About the Author
S.J. ROZAN was born and raised in the Bronx and is a long-time Manhattan resident. An architect for many years, she is now a full-time writer. Her critically acclaimed, award-winning novels and stories have won most of crime fiction's greatest honors, including the Edgar, Anthony, Shamus, Macavity and the Nero Award.
Read an Excerpt
The Shanghai Moon
By S. J. Rozan
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 S. J. Rozan
All rights reserved.
I dropped my suitcase, slipped off my shoes, and listened to familiar Chinatown sounds spill in the windows. Horns honked, delivery vans rumbled. Mr. Hu's songbird trilled from the roof next door. I heard a child squeal with laughter and her grandmother scold in Cantonese: Hold my hand, you bad girl, or that fish truck will squash you flat.
And speaking of scolding in Cantonese, here came my mother.
"Who are you?" She shuffled from the kitchen and peered at me. "You look like my daughter, Ling Wan-ju, but I haven't seen her in a long time. She went to California. She said she'd be back soon, but she stayed. I'm happy she's having fun."
My mother's sarcasm could cut diamonds.
"Two extra weeks, Ma. And they're your cousins." I kissed her papery cheek, which she grudgingly allowed. "Have a good time while I was gone?"
"Your brother's children are very noisy." I have four brothers, but my mother rarely uses their names when she talks to me; I'm supposed to know which one she means. This time I did: Ted, the oldest. She'd stayed at his place in Queens while I was away.
"But you had the downstairs apartment to yourself, right?"
"I was fortunate it was empty. It's so dark, no wonder no one will rent it."
"I think Ted and Ling-an did a nice job on it."
"Too many rooms for one person. With such a big kitchen! Hard to find all the pots and pans."
"Did you cook?"
"Your brother and his wife both work so hard, come home late. They order from restaurants. So expensive! I made har gow, and long-life noodles."
"I'll bet the kids liked that."
"And so much lawn, so many useless flowers! I planted melons."
"Your nephew helped."
I could see that scene: my mother in a straw hat, plants dangling from each hand while ten-year-old Barry dug and mulched. Luckily, both Ted's kids adore her. They know her frowning and finger-wagging are scams to hoodwink malicious spirits into thinking her useless, disobedient grandchildren aren't worth stealing.
"Flushing. Pah!" my mother finished. "Too far away."
I sighed. She'd seen right through us. That apartment, far from being "fortunately" empty, had been built for her. My brothers and I think this fourth- floor walk-up we grew up in is getting hard for her to manage. But her refusal to leave Chinatown begins with a refusal to acknowledge she has anywhere to go.
Jet-lagged, I didn't have energy for this argument. "I'm going to unpack, Ma. Then I'll tell you all about the wedding."
"You could have gotten married yourself, you were there so long. Have you eaten?"
"I made congee. There may be enough for two."
Detouring into the kitchen, I waved at old Chow Lun, leaning over the street from his usual windowsill. I lifted the lid from a steaming pot and found enough congee for an army. The table held bowls of chopped spring onions, pickles, and dried fish.
My mother's never liked fish in her congee. But I love it.
While I unpacked, I called my office phone. No messages. Not that I'd expected any. Work was slow, and anyway I'd been checking in daily from California. Now, that might sound like I was waiting for aparticular call, but of course I wasn't. I especially wasn't waiting for a call from Bill Smith, my former associate, then partner; former close friend, then almost-I-don't-know-what, who'd done a vanishing act months ago after our last case together. The case, involving Bill's nephew Gary, had ended badly. As his partner and close friend, I felt terrible for him and understood why he wanted no part of anyone for a while. But as his partner and close friend, it made me furious to be one of the people he wanted no part of.
To the tune of my mother bullhorning Chinatown gossip across the apartment, I excavated my suitcase. I was down to the T-shirts when my cell phone rang. I grabbed it; the number was unfamiliar. Squashing down a pang of disappointment, I gave my name in both English and Chinese. Then I yanked the phone from my ear as an offkey tenor bellowed:
"The stars that hang high
Bring back the memory
Of a thrill!
I've been looking hiiiiigh, and I've been looking looooow,
Looking for you, Shanghai Lil!"
"Stop! Pilarsky, your singing has not improved."
"Hey, it wasn't 'Lydia the Tattooed Lady.' I thought you'd be happy. How are you, Chinsky?"
"Oh, I'm fine." I sighed. "How are you? What can I do for you? And what was that?"
"Footlight Parade. Busby Berkeley, Cagney, Keeler. One of the greats. And me, I could be worse. I'm still in business. Are you? If yes, it's not what you can do for me, it's I have a job for you."
"Do I know? A client wants someone who can, quote, operate discreetly in the Chinese community."
"So why did he call you?"
"Apparently, because I speak Yiddish. And he's a she."
"I don't —"
"I don't either. Come to the Waldorf at four and we'll both find out."
"Of course today."
"Well ..." Chasing to a meeting with Joel Pilarsky when I'd just fought my way in from JFK wouldn't have been my first choice; but work is work. "Okay."
"Good girl. I'll be lurking behind a potted palm."
I bristled at the "girl," but Joel was on the far side of sixty, and I was in fact younger than two of his three daughters.
As I clicked off, my mother's face floated around the doorjamb. She must have been in the hall, responding to a sudden need to rearrange the linen closet or straighten the family photos. "Who was that? You were talking about work. Was that the white baboon?"
"Bill? No. I haven't heard from him in a while." I busied myself with my suitcase. "That was Joel Pilarsky. You've met him. I helped him last year when he was looking for that Jewish lady who ran off with the Chinese restaurant owner."
"In Flushing, I remember! Nobody in Flushing is busy enough, so they make trouble for themselves."
Well, mentioning that was obviously a mistake. "Anyway, Joel has a job for me. I'm meeting him later."
"Today? He's sloppy. He gives you orders. And he sings. You get a headache when you work with him."
"Only when he sings." She makes a point of not listening when I talk about work, so how does she know this stuff? "And it's good to have work. Keeps me busy."
"Pah. Keep busy so you won't think about who isn't calling you."
"Ma! You don't even like Bill. And I haven't called him lately either."
"If you never call him again, your mother and your brothers will be happy. But for him not to call you? He values himself too highly. Make you go all the way to California."
"I went to California for Jeannie Chu's wedding."
"A month for a wedding?" Her pursed lips told me what she thought of that. Then she waved away the annoying gnat of Bill. "When do you have to go to your job today?"
"Two hours. Plenty of time to shower and change. But first, let's have some congee."
Probably taken in by the charcoal silk pantsuit that was my mother's handiwork, the Waldorf doorman actually smiled at me. In the carpeted, chandeliered lobby, three men conferred over PDAs, no doubt scheduling a very important meeting. A graceful woman rolled a suitcase toward the door. Even the two little boys waiting while their parents checked in wore button-down shirts and were behaving themselves.
In a club chair to my right I spotted Joel, not behind a potted palm but beside one. Silver pots and porcelain cups clustered on the coffee table between him and a neat, plump woman. Joel looked a little chubbier, a little balder than last time I'd seen him, but, with both his yarmulke and his tie askew, his hurried, preoccupied air was the same.
The woman, smiling and saying something, looked slightly younger than he. Allowing for facials, makeup, and the general care we women take of ourselves, that probably meant she was a few years older. She'd smoothed her graying hair into a neat bun. My mother would have approved of the twill cloth and conservative cut of her dark green suit.
Joel popped up, banging his shin as he came around the table. "Great to see you, Lydia. Lydia Chin, Alice Fairchild."
Alice Fairchild stood and shook my hand. She wasn't much taller than I: five- four, maybe, or five-five. "I'm delighted you're available, Ms. Chin. Joel tells me you're just the woman I need."
"I hope so. And please, it's Lydia."
Joel manhandled a chair over. "Sit. Have some coffee."
"Is there tea?"
"Oh, good!" Alice Fairchild reached for a pot. "I always feel so lonely among coffee drinkers. Lydia, how do you take it?"
"Milk, no sugar, please."
"I have to thank you both for making yourselves available on such short notice." She placed a tiny spoon on the saucer and handed me my tea. "As I was just telling Joel, he was recommended by a contact in Zurich. And of course you, Lydia, were recommended by him."
"Alice is an attorney," Joel said. "From Switzerland."
"Semiretired. I only take cases of particular interest now. My bread and butter was estate planning for fellow American expats. A little boring." She smiled. "But I have a rarefied specialty: recovery of assets for families of Holocaust victims. My office is in Switzerland for that reason: As Willie Sutton said about robbing banks, that's where the money is. Most of it. But from time to time, something turns up somewhere else." From a slim briefcase, she handed us each a set of papers. "If you don't mind, I'd like you to look at these."
On top was a Xerox of an old photograph. A teenage girl, in the knee-length skirt and round-toed pumps of thirties movies, stood with a boy a few years younger. One hand held down a hat threatening to take off in a wind that slanted his tie and stirred her curly hair; the other seemed to hold down the boy himself, who radiated affable impatience. Their conspiratorial smiles as they indulged the photographer reminded me of my brothers and me.
The next page was another Xerox, of a handwritten letter. A typed notation at the top margin said, "Jewish Museum, Holocaust archives. Rosalie Gilder to her mother, Elke Gilder, April 14, 1938."
"This looks like German," I said. "I don't —"
"Oh, I'm sorry," said Alice Fairchild. "The last page is the translation."
I flipped the pages. From neat typing, I read:
14 April 1938
I write from the deck of the Conte Biancamano as we are putting out to sea. A salt wind is blowing and the sun shines with a power I've never seen. Oh, how I miss you, Mama! From this moment I shall write often and tell you everything, exactly as you requested. Paul teases me that my inability to keep silent and my love of setting pen to paper would assure that you'd be flooded with letters, whether you'd requested them or not! And he's right, of course. Though this letter, and its fellows to come, could remain unwritten, could go to blazes for all I care, if only you were with us!
I couldn't write from the train, Mama. No one aboard could think of anything but how each passing meter brought us closer to the border. What weak conversation there was stopped completely each time the train did. Everyone was terrified that the Gestapo — who came aboard twice — would find something wrong in our papers, and remove us. Such downcast eyes and timid voices! Even mine, Mama, even mine. Choking on my fury — yes, and my fear — I sat, the soul of meekness, showing Paul's papers and mine as commanded, otherwise silent. But all the passengers were the same; even the youngest children sat frozen, clutching their parents' hands.
Until the border! As the whistle blew and the train chugged from the Italian customs station, such cheers erupted! Strangers hugged and champagne bottles appeared by magic. One gentleman jumped from his seat and burst into Italian song. I allowed Paul champagne because I imagined you would have, and took a small glass myself. Briefly we celebrated; then the tumult died down, as all of us, exhausted by worry and weakened by relief, turned to quiet conversations or private thoughts.
Are you well, Mama? I must tell you, as the train pulled out of the Hauptbahnhof I very nearly leapt from it and refused to leave Salzburg without you! But I forced myself to remain. You've made me responsible for Paul's safety and I intend to carry out my charge so you will be proud of me when you arrive. And I hope and pray that will be sooner than we expect. Three months is not fast enough! Please do whatever you must — sell everything, badger the steamship lines, cause a nuisance at travel offices — until you book an earlier passage! Please, Mama, I won't rest until I hear that you and Uncle Horst have cleared the border.
Now, as to Paul and myself, you mustn't worry. People show great kindness when they learn we're traveling alone. The situation on this ship, in any case, is quite extraordinary. Everything is teak, glowing brass, and thick carpets. As we boarded this morning, streamers flew and in the Grand Saloon the ship's orchestra played merry tunes — quite well, I'm sure, but unnervingly discordant in the circumstances. Our stateroom is small but well appointed. Our suitcases, though battered, are intact and holding up nicely. The passengers are looked after by stewards who treat us as guests traveling for business or pleasure, though fully two-thirds are fellow Jews in our situation — refugees, let us use the word.
The emotions among us are so mixed, Mama, so hard to describe! Relief. Sorrow. Anger. Fear for the future. Horror and disgust, as we hear whispered stories of brutalities perpetrated in Germany. Can it be that Austria, now that we have lost our independence, could stoop as low? None believe it, but Mama, guard your tickets! If you and Uncle Horst cannot find an earlier ship, then train it must be, and please take great care until you depart. Urge Uncle Horst to rein in his temper and live in a way so as not to be noticed — oh, Mama, I'm serious but I laugh to see what I've written! The very words you spoke to me! And here I repeat them to you for Uncle Horst, as though you need them.
I can't wait for the day when we're together again! In Shanghai Paul and I will ready a home, and when you arrive we'll rush to meet you. Perhaps, in years to come, bedtime tales of the Chinese adventures of the Gilder family will be told to wide-eyed children, who will then dream wonderful dreams.
Paul sends his love, and promises to write though I think he will not. But no matter; I will faithfully correspond for us both. Please, please, Mama, come soon!!!
With all my heart, Your Rosalie
In the silence I became aware of comings and goings in the Waldorf lobby. A bellhop pushed a luggage cart across the carpet. Well-dressed men and women read newspapers and sipped coffee. If you ignored the taxis beyond the doors, this could be the saloon of a great ocean liner itself.
I looked at Alice Fairchild. "I don't understand. These were Jews escaping the Nazis? But — they were going to Shanghai?"
"It was their only choice."
"What do you mean? I thought they went to other countries in Europe, or came here."
"Survivors did, after the war. But as the Nazis rose in the thirties, countries all over the world closed their doors. Everyone knew what was happening, but no government was willing to deal with a flood of desperate refugees."
"Even the U.S.?"
"The U.S. had small quotas by country and looked at the Jews as Germans, Austrians, Poles, wherever they were from. All the normal paperwork was required."
"This is a surprise?" Joel asked me. "There were Chinese quotas, too, you know."
"I know that. But I thought —"
"It was just you? Wrong."
I sipped tea to hide my annoyance that Joel had caught me out being ignorant, and in front of the client, too. "Well, but Shanghai? It seems so ... unlikely."
"I'm sure it did to them, too," Alice said. "But visas were relatively easy to get, and often passengers off ships weren't asked for papers in any case. Anyone who could get there could stay. It was the only place.
"How many refugees went?"
"Twenty thousand?" Where had I been during world history class?
"The story's not well known." Alice read my mind. "It's been eclipsed by the war, the concentration camps. They began arriving in numbers in 1937. By 1942, fighting in Europe and the Pacific had closed the routes."
Excerpted from The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan. Copyright © 2009 S. J. Rozan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
S. J. Rozan does her usual fine job on this novel. If you enjoy a good detective novel, then this is a solid pick.
Learning there were concentration camps in China during World War II was an eye opener. Even though the letters Rosalie had written to her mother were part of the fiction, gaining an understanding that perhaps 20,000 Jews were in those camps and to some degree how they may have been treated made it well worth the read. Using those letters as clues to help solve the mystery of the Shanghai Moon became the adventure for Lydia and Bill. Murder occurs to a trusted associate Joel. Now the murderer must be found and the Shanghai Moon too will be discovered, all in the world of today. The mystery would have been more enjoyable if it had been 250 pages instead of 337.
In 1938 eighteen years old Jew Rosalie Gilder, carrying her mom¿s diamonds, flees Nazi Austria for Shanghai in spite of the Japanese occupation. There she marries aristocrat Chen Kai-Rong. As a show of harmony between them Chen commissions a local jeweler to create the Shanghai Moon brooch that combines the gems of his wife¿s mom with his family rare jade heirloom. The Shanghai Moon vanished during WWII.
In the present in Shanghai, Rosalie¿s jewelry box is found, but disappears again almost immediately after surfacing when Chinese government official Wong Pan steals it before fleeing to New York. A Swiss asset-recovery specialist hires Joel Pilarsky to retrieve the box assumed to be with Wong in Manhattan before he sells it to unscrupulous collectors. When Joel is murdered, his friends Lydia Chin and Bill Smith follow clues that take them to Chinatown where they run into the son of Chen and Rosalie and other family members wanting to obtain the Shanghai Moon.
It has been a few years since Chin- Smith teamed up (see REFLECTIONS IN THE SKY and WINTER AND NIGHT), but the wait was worth it. Their latest contemporary urban thriller is a fast-paced and exciting tale that comes out of the gate filled with action even before the heroes join the fray. Adding to the fun is the historical subplot re THE SHANGHAI MOON brooch that in the present has several people avariciously lusting for it; with at least one willing to kill to obtain the jewelry piece. Fans will appreciate the return of the Manhattan duo as the East comes to the West in S.J. Rozan¿s tense mystery.