cover image The Murder of Mr. Ma

The Murder of Mr. Ma

S.J. Rozan and John Shen Yen Nee. Soho Crime, $25.95 (312p) ISBN 978-1-64129-549-9

Rozan (the Lydia Chin and Bill Smith novels) teams up with debut author Nee for a bewitching series kickoff that cleverly riffs on the Holmes/Watson dynamic with the investigative duo of novelist and lecturer Lao She and Judge Dee Ren Jie. In 1924 London, Lao (the Watson figure) is summoned by mathematician Bertrand Russell after Dee, Russell’s friend, is mistakenly arrested with a group of Chinese agitators. Concerned that Metropolitan Police inspector William Bard, whom Dee angered during WWI while resolving disputes between Chinese laborers and the British soldiers who recruited them to provide support in France, will discover that Dee’s been locked up, Russell convinces Lao to help him spring the judge from jail. Though their scheme goes south, Dee manages to escape, and he enlists Lao’s help in probing the murder of shopkeeper Ma Za Ren, who was under Bard’s command during the war. Someone fatally stabbed Ma in his store with one of the ornamental weapons he had for sale. Given Bard’s harsh anti-Chinese biases, Dee doubts the official inquiry will be thorough enough to settle on anything but the most obvious explanation, and dedicates himself to getting justice for his countryman. The intricate plot, which is bolstered by vivid period detail and playfully riffs on real-life figures in Chinese history (including Lao), is enhanced by healthy doses of humor and well-orchestrated action. Readers will be clamoring for a sequel. Agent: Josh Getzler, HG Literary. (Apr.)