cover image The Shanghai Tunnel

The Shanghai Tunnel

Sharan Newman, . . Forge, $24.95 (334pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-1300-3

Best known for her Catherine LeVendeur medieval series (The Witch in the Well , etc.), Newman turns to her hometown of Portland, Ore., for this lackadaisical 1860s historical. The rough young city is growing fast, creating a wealth of opportunities for unscrupulous businessmen. When Horace Stratton, who made his fortune in China, dies on his way back to Portland with his wife, Emily, the daughter of American missionaries in China, Emily must manage her new life alone. After delving into Horace’s business affairs, Emily learns that his fortune came from the abhorrent opium trade. Her reform efforts trigger alarm among the city’s power brokers. As bodies start piling up and her own safety is threatened, Emily struggles to find her place in a society that expects women to stay home and let men take care of things. All the elements are in place for a rich, multilayered story, but weak character development and the heavy-handed portrayal of the era’s sexism make for a disappointing read. Loyal Newman fans may wish for a return to the 12th century. (Feb.)