Lydia Chin is handed one of the most intriguing jobs in her private detective career when she is invited to tea by a stranger named Jeff Dunbar.
Lydia is a PI of the everyday variety --- tracking down philandering husbands or small-time embezzlement cases --- but she’s happy for the break in routine of her usually humdrum work when Dunbar describes the assignment. She is puzzled when he asks her to track down a rumor that paintings by a Chinese artist who died at Tiananmen Square in 1989 may have come to light. Although she knows little about Chinese revolutionary art, he selected her because she speaks Chinese and knows everyone in the New York Chinese community. He simply wants her to poke around for a day or two, and see what she can find out. The $1,000 cash for two days’ work will come in handy.
"GHOST HERO may be one of [Rozan's] best efforts because, although Tiananmen Square may seem like ancient history to most, it is a volatile subject in China and in America --- for very different reasons."
Lydia certainly knows people, or at least people who know people who know the subject, so she calls on her partner, Bill Smith. While not Chinese, he does have connections all over town, including in the art world. In turn, Bill contacts Jack Lee, a Chinese PI and friend who is a bona fide art expert. Jack has also heard the rumors and reluctantly discloses that he, too, has been hired for the same purpose, but by people with an entirely different agenda. They are all puzzled that Mr. Dunbar would go to Lydia when Lee is well known as a Chinese art specialist, but they agree to discretely team up and share what information they ethically can.
The artist in question is Chau Chun, or Ghost Hero Chau, who was a political activist of some import in the students’ freedom demonstrations. A discovery of un-released art by Chau Chun may be worth millions --- especially if the part of the rumor that this may be recent work is true. This would mean that Chau Chun may still be alive.
An upcoming Chinese/American cultural event is about to take place, and the unveiling of Ghost Hero Chun’s work is likely to be a big draw, not to mention politically explosive for the Chinese. Suddenly, the three detectives find themselves drawn into a diplomatic riptide that could affect the Chinese and Americans at a sensitive time in international relations, drawing them all into a dangerous scandal, endangering the lives and careers of many people, including themselves.
S. J. Rozan never fails to fill her stories with crackling dialogue, intriguing plot twists and turns, and well-researched facts about Chinese customs. Now she turns to politics. GHOST HERO may be one of her best efforts because, although Tiananmen Square may seem like ancient history to most, it is a volatile subject in China and in America --- for very different reasons.
Lives and reputations of artists, gallery owners, college professors and the detectives themselves are at stake as the three PIs discover that no one is who they say they are, and that their motives are anything but pure. With millions of dollars to be made or lost through a scheme Lydia cooks up, and the safety and careers of State Department officials of both countries at stake, the suspense builds. GHOST HERO is a Chinese puzzle of the highest order, twisting and turning to the very end.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on October 27, 2011