Volume 20, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 22 - 28, 2010

Mystery writers Chang & Rozan mine Chinatown
Literary sleuths can’t escape their past

COMPILED BY SCOTT STIFFLER

As last-minute holiday gifts go, the right book has a way of stuffing a stocking with care — and there’s no better way to get that special someone’s attention than by giving them something that will keep them guessing long after they’ve torn through the wrapping paper.

The folks at Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers have a store full of items that will do just that. This independent bookstore is devoted entirely to mysteries. They feature a complete selection of new titles as well as classics and out-of-print books. Some of the genre’s most popular authors visit the store for readings and signings — so keep checking the calendar section of their website for updates (www.crimepays.com).

Co-Owner Kizmin Reeves notes, “We often buy a lot of signed books for the holidays. If it’s the newest book by your favorite author, a lot of people really enjoy those.” Recently, the store hosted an event featuring three authors whose signed works are now available: James R. Benn, Stuart Neville and Henry Chang.

James R. Benn (“Rag and Bone”) writes about a young Boston cop who does military investigations during World War II. Stuart Neville’s “The Ghosts of Belfast” is a sequel to one the staff’s favorite books (“Collusion”). It examines the lingering and dangerous effects of what Reeves calls “armed redemption…In each of the books, there’s someone who’s been so strongly affected by things that happed during the active times of the IRA, that they take up arts to settle some old scores.”

The third author at that signing event was native son of Chinatown, Henry Chang. His most recent work, “Red Jade,” is the third in the author’s “Chinatown Trilogy.” The first is “Chinatown Beat” and the second is “Year of the Dog.” For more info, visit www.chinatowntrilogy.com.

Reeves says much of the trilogy’s success has to do with Detective Jack Yu’s efforts to balance the demands of work and family: “His protagonist grows up in Chinatown, becomes a cop and then gets sent back to Chinatown because he’s got the cultural insights. Then he has to deal with his old neighborhood, his parents, and his family — who are on both sides of the law. As he progresses in his career, he always finds himself assigned to crimes that look like they have Chinese perpetrators. So wherever he’s stationed, he catches the things that take him back to his roots.”

That universal struggle to define one’s self, only to find the answers at the very place you’ve been trying to escape from, is what gives the trilogy its crossover appeal. For the hardcore mystery enthusiast, the depth of Detective Yu and those who cross his path are what makes the Chinatown Trilogy unique. Reeves: “There are a lot of genre detectives who remain fairly two-dimensional. But Chang’s characters have more shadings, more nuances. You don’t just see the mystery. You see how it came about, and how people found themselves in the situation — so you get a more sympathetic view.”

If you want to shop local, in every sense of the word, S.J. Rozan’s “On the Line” will also be of interest. The author, a Village resident, has a series based on a unique investigative partnership. Reeves: “Her Bill Smith-Lydia Chin mysteries are some of the top customer favorites in the store. The books are told in alternating points of view per book, because the partnership is a young Chinese woman from Chinatown and a middle-aged tough guy from the Bronx.” Part of the author’s enduring appeal, Reeves says, comes from the fact that, well, you always learn new facts: “Not that’s it’s educational per se, but a lot of knowledge gets brought in — whether it’s from S.J.’s own architecture and construction background or the history of an immigrant family. For more info, www.sjrozan.com.

Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers is located at 44 Greenwich Ave. (btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves. at the foot of Charles St.). Visit www.crimepays.com or call 212-243-0440.

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