The heart and soul of Juanita Sheridan’s The Chinese Chop lies in the relationship of the two main characters, Janice Cameron and Lily Wu. Janice has moved from her beloved Honolulu to the loneliness (and frigid winters) of New York City. Desperate to find a room, she meets Lily Wu. The two move into a house shared with a variety of susp…I mean New York artist types. There’s not much Janice knows about her new roomie except she conceals her emotions and motives with remarkable cunning. Lily is beautiful (seriously, this book is obsessed with her looks), blessed with mysterious means, and capable of unearthly patience as she searches for a secret something within her new dwelling–something for which one of those New York artists is willing to kill.
Yeah, Lily’s a sleuth. The justice she seeks is intensely personal and the methods she employs to obtain it are fun to discover as the two women happen upon a murder plot. As the bodies and clues pile up, the two women slowly bond over make-up, shared dislikes (the best human adhesive), and a desire to find out just who is killing their housemates.
If you require your mystery to function as a character study, I’m sure you’ll love TCC. It’s well-grounded in time and place (New York 1949), there’s a lot of detail about Chinese culture, and (best of all) the weaknesses of the cast play a big part in how they behave and die. The aforementioned bond between Lily and Janice grows throughout the novel is believable and intelligent ways. There are secrets in the past, terrifying doorknob turns in the dark, and sleuthing done under time constraints. It’s all fun stuff.
But, of course, I am an impossible crime fanatic. So…
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with a whodunit sans impossible crime. They can be quite charming as they eschew method, concentrating instead on the wonderful burden of an unknown killer hiding among the characters. Motive and anonymity are, after all, the only requirements of a murder mystery. (Except for inverted mysteries–which, suspenseful as they may be, are not mysteries.) There are lots of those wonderful moments when a character looks around the room and realizes one of those smiling faces belongs to a murderer.
It’s just that I get more excited about impossible murders. It’s an extra layer of dread. Lovecraft said the unknown is the greatest fear, and I’m inclined to agree with him. This isn’t rocket science. The more you don’t know, the more entertained you’ll be. Oh, well.
I certainly don’t mean to sound negative. Juanita Sheridan’s The Chinese Chop is a delightful read. It has sharply-drawn personalities, a competent plot, and plenty of delicious moments. It’s missing a locked door or two.
4 thoughts on “The Chinese Chop”
This is a series I love, but I am less interested in locked room mysteries, which probably helps! Lily Wu is a character of vital importance within the history of the genre as she is the first Chinese woman to be the principal sleuth of a series of detective novels. That and she isn’t pensioned off with a marriage. The other novels in the series all take place in 1950s Hawaii and I think the objectification of Lily (which is actually used to show up those doing the objectifying in the first novel), is somewhat reduced. But yes part of the story is the mystery of Lily herself and Janice’s fathoming out of her. You might be surprised (or not lol) to know that I wrote an entry on Lily for the publication 100 Greatest Literary Detectives (2018), ed. Eric Sandberg.
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“You might be surprised (or not lol) to know that I wrote an entry on Lily for the publication 100 Greatest Literary Detectives (2018), ed. Eric Sandberg.”
That’s cool. I looked it up and it’s a tad out of my current price range, but I’ll keep an eye out for a good deal.
I think I’ve just been spoiled by reading so many impossible crime novels. It feels like something is missing when I don’t get one. This was enjoyable though.
Might be one you could track down in a library perhaps?
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Somewhere around 2007, I got my hands on a complete set of the Rue Morgue Press reprint editions and can only describe it as a transitional series that you have to read for the characters and the Hawaiian setting rather than their plots. However, I do remember enjoying The Waikiki Widow in spite of the plot falling apart in the last few chapters.
“It’s just that I get more excited about impossible murders. It’s an extra layer of dread. Lovecraft said the unknown is the greatest fear, and I’m inclined to agree with him. This isn’t rocket science. The more you don’t know, the more entertained you’ll be. Oh, well.”
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