The on-again, off-again partnership between Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, the private detective-heroes of 11 of S.J. Rozan's crime novels, is on again.
In "Ghost Hero," a mysterious man hires them to investigate a rumor that previously unknown paintings by Chau Chun, a Chinese painter killed in the Tiananmen Square uprising, are about to surface in New York. But soon they learn that another P.I. is looking into the same thing and that unscrupulous art dealers, criminal gangs, an academic expert on Chinese painting and even the Chinese government all have a stake in the game.
They also learn that their client has been lying to them from the start.
Rozan's heroes, first-generation Chinese-American Chin and middle-American Army brat Smith, allow her an enormous range of voice and tone within this successful series.
In last year's "On the Line," for example, Chin is abducted and Smith, who narrates the story, races against time to get her back. The mood is grim and the pace intense, giving the book the feel of movies like Liam Neeson's 2008 kidnapping thriller, "Taken."
But in "Ghost Hero," narrated by Chin, the mood is light and the story is laced with humor, reminiscent of the 1973 Paul Newman-Robert Redford classic, "The Sting."
Chin and Smith approach their case by running a confidence game designed to deceive everyone, including their client. Some of the book's funniest moments feature Smith posing as a Russian mobster, complete with a swagger and an accent that is by turns authentic and hilarious.
The ethnic differences between Chin and Smith give this series an added dimension. Chin's mother, who suspects Smith is interested in her daughter for more than business reasons (and he is), calls him "the white baboon." Rozan uses such tensions to explore issues of diversity and cultural politics without ever getting heavy-handed.
Chin and Smith fans will find "Ghost Hero" one of the better books in the series.
Bruce DeSilva is the author of "Rogue Island," which won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award and the Mystery Readers International's Macavity Award for best first novel.