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Getting Hung Up on Bill & Lydia

September 11, 2009 by Reader's Connection

Reflecting the Sky

In preparation for mystery writer S. J. Rozan´s visit, I’m becoming addicted to the Bill Smith & Lydia Chin series. Rozan will serve as Toastmaster at the upcoming Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Indianapolis (October 15th – 18th), and on Wednesday, October 14th, the day before the convention starts, she’ll come to Central Library at 7:00 p.m. and give a talk entitled “Every Story is a Mystery.”



I´m reading the series books out of order, which is probably a mistake. I´m currently reading two of them at once, in fact, and you probably think that´s crazy. Surely I´m going to get confused. I won’t be able to keep my clues and characters straight.



Stone QuarryBut there’s really little danger. I’m listening to one of them (Concourse) on CD, and reading the other (Reflecting the Sky) on paper. If that wasn’t enough to keep the story lines straight, Reflecting the Sky is set (so far, anyway) in Hong Kong, and Concourse in the Bronx.


Even without these distinctions in media and geography, I think I’d be able to tell these tales apart as I read them. Reflecting the Sky is narrated by Lydia Chin, Concourse by Bill Smith.


Is there any other private eye series that does this? Joe Gores has written a series featuring a private eye firm, Daniel Kearny Associates, and those novels feature the points of view of different detectives. But to alternate narrators the way Rozan has done, from novel to novel, makes the reader’s experience especially intriguing.


China TradeChin Ling Wan-Ju, or Lydia Chin, is in her late twenties (in some of the novels, anyway) and lives with her mother in New York’s Chinatown. Bill is a tough Caucasian customer who served in the Navy. He lives above a bar and has a cabin upstate. I wouldn’t know about his rough upbringing, yet, if I weren’t reading the books out of order.

Lydia & Bill begin the series as sometime partners, and the relationship becomes more permanant. Bill has romantic feelings about Lydia, which she tries to discourage–and even if she didn’t, her mother and most of her brothers hate Bill, whose unrequited love for Lydia creates a tension that runs through the novels. I don’t know what’s going to happen, down the line, but I never have the feeling that these two characters are headed for an inevitable clinch.



Winter and Night

If, unlike myself, you’re a sensible person, you’ll want to read the books in the order they were published.

China Trade 1994 Lydia Chin narrates

Concourse 1995 Bill Smith narrates

Mandarin Plaid 1996 Lydia narrates

No Colder Place 1997 Bill

A Bitter Feast 1998 Lydia

Stone Quarry 1999 Bill

Reflecting the Sky 2001 Lydia

Winter and Night 2002 Bill

The Shanghai Moon 2009  Lydia




Absent Friends

There’s a gap between those last two titles because Rozan was writing out of series. Absent Friends was published in 2004. Its characters are caught up in the follow-up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the novel was praised by Booklist as “an unforgettable elegy to the clear September morning that forever changed our lives.”


In This Rain
Rozan was formerly an architect in a practice that focused on police stations, firehouses, and zoos. An unfair amount of talent has been alloted to one human, here; but that architectural background comes to the fore in In This Rain (c2006), which involves corruption in Manhattan’s construction industry.



No Colder PlaceI believe that problems with construction also figure in No Colder Place, the fourth novel in the Bill & Lydia series. It’s really no surprise that Rozan is an architect. She does well with all her settings, whether we’re talking about buildings or landscapes. The upstate New York area where Bill spends time in his cabin is as wonderfully rendered as the store in Lydia’s Chinatown where Grandfather Gao issues his animal metaphors.

I have succeeded. I’m addicted. To be honest, I was hooked after just one novel, Winter and Night, which has the darkest, most slithery identity switch that I’ve come across since reading Ross Macdonald–the first author to get me hooked on mysteries.

Hope to see you at Central Library on October 14th.



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