Friday, January 05, 2007

Link du Jour: S.J. Rozan

I first heard of S.J. Rozan after her book Winter and Night won the Edgar Award. I hate picking up series in the middle, so I went back and started reading her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries from the beginning starting with China Trade. I've been hooked ever since.

It's amazing how Rozan can change her voice from book to book. The first person narrative switches between her two detectives from novel to novel. Lydia Chin stories are optimistic and light-hearted, while being packed with insight into the life of an American Born Chinese woman. You'd think that Rozan was Chinese herself.

Then again, from reading the Bill Smith stories, you'd think that Rozan had actual experience being a hard-boiled, middle-aged man. On those books, she's a modern day Chandler or Hammett. She doesn't spoof or parody or even echo those guys; she just uses words in a similar way to create the same kind of mood those guys did.

Bill and Lydia appear in each others' stories, so it's also fascinating to see how dark Bill is when he's narrating his own tale juxtaposed with the way Lydia sees him when she's telling the story. Conversely, Lydia is much less confident in herself when she narrates than she appears to be from Bill's point of view. Any novelist wanting to write convincingly diverse characters should study Rozan's work.

And so should any mystery writer who wants to learn how to pace a mystery without giving away too much at the beginning, or holding back so much that it comes out of nowhere at the end. Rozan is a master at feeding you all the necessary clues to solve the mystery, but keeping you so distracted by the entertaining characters that you don't pay enough attention to the clues and risk spoiling the ending for yourself.


West said...

Nice review.

It's all too rare, in my experience, to encounter fiction produced by a writer who can "switch voices."

Often, the characters sound the same except for minor differences. They often use the very same odd word combinations and speech patterns.

I can still enjoy some stories without firm speech boundaries (like Mark Millar's comics, actually), but I generally consider it to be a short-coming on the creator's part.

Michael May said...

"It's all too rare, in my experience, to encounter fiction produced by a writer who can 'switch voices.'"

I agree. Can you think of any other authors like that off the top of your head? I'd love to read them.

ZenPupDog said...

The author herself is super nice. I recommend "Mandarin Plaid" when you get a chance.

Michael May said...

I've read Mandarin Plaid and I agree. The Lydia ones are my favorites.

I've read everything up through Stone Quarry before taking a little break, but I'll be getting back into them and catching up before too long.


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