This flavorful first novel introduces Alex Rasmussen, a likable wisecracking PI in Lowell, Mass., whose Cambodian population is the second largest in the U.S. Alex, who lives to redeem his lost honor (he was framed as a cop), is hired by Ada Chan Stewart, a Chinese-American social worker, to solve the murder of Bhuntan Tran, a survivor of the Cambodian killing fields, in whose house the police found a half-gram of cocaine. During the hunt, Alex learns a great deal about jade, the ``stone of heaven.'' He discovers that Tran was one of seven Cambodian refugees executed Khmer Rouge-style in U.S. cities in the past 12 months. The story, which takes place in July, ends with a smashing surprise after a piece of tinsel leads Alex to an abandoned textile mill where Christmas ornaments are stored. The book won the annual St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel contest. (Oct.)
This year's winner of the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel contest sticks closely to the conventions of the genre. The private eye, Alex Rasmussen, is an ex-cop, unjustly bounced off the force over a botched sting operation. He has one good friend on the force and one sworn enemy. He also has a busted marriage and a code of honor that prohibits him from doing anything immoral (except perhaps sleeping with his client). A social worker hires Rasmussen to clear the name of a murdered Cambodian refugee who the police believe was involved with drugs. Smuggled jade, the "heaven stone" of the title, and high-level corruption round out the tale. Rasmussen should be a good series character: he's world weary without being wearying, heroic without being Superman. In addition, Daniel uses the grim, gritty factory town of Lowell, Massachusetts, to good advantage. Overall, this is an impressive if comfortably conventional first novel.