Cover Image: Paper Son

Paper Son

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

First of all, I have to admit that when I started Paper Son, I didn't realize it was number twelve in a detective series. The NetGalley blurb didn't mention this, and when I got the book, I didn't spend enough time looking at the cover to notice A Lydia Chin/Bill Smith Novel under the title. I picked it for the Chinese and mystery themes, and the book stands alone,  but I'm sure there's plenty that I missed without reading the others.

Lydia Chin's mother asks (ok, tells) her to take a case helping out a never-before-mentioned cousin in Mississippi, who is accused of murder. When Lydia asks about this new relative, especially why they don't share a surname, she discovers some of her relatives are descendants of a paper son, and hold his "adopted" father's name.  I knew about this practice (Laila Ibrahim's Paper Wife is another good story that hinges on this system) but not about the rest of the life of Chinese immigrants in Mississippi.

Bill Smith, Lydia's work partner and also secretly her romantic partner, comes with her to investigate the murder, and the suspect's escape from custody. In Mississippi, Bill's southern roots come out, and I just loved this part. My husband is a southerner who reverts to his drawl when we cross the Mason-Dixon line for a visit. (Or when he gets off the phone with his very southern mother.)  

Their mystery has many twists, including meth dealing, Fine Upstanding Southerners, gambling, family secrets, and a certain interracial couple, no, not Bill and Lydia, another couple who may be keeping their relationship secret from unaccepting relatives. This is much more an exploration of the cultures in the south than a police procedural. There's almost no gore or violence, thankfully, even though the original murder that brought Lydia down south was a a stabbing.  

Anyway, I'm so delighted that I didn't realize I was walking into the middle of series, and gave this mystery a try.
Was this review helpful?
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I'm a big SJ Rozan fan, so it was no surprise to me that Lydia Chin and Bill Smith kept me guessing and amused throughout. But what was a surprise was the long-established Chinese community in the Mississippi Delta. Who knew? Paper Son is a crisp, exciting mystery with an utterly fascinating, unexpected historical backdrop that the author weaves seamlessly into Lydia Chin's psyche. Highly recommend.
Was this review helpful?
First Sentence:  "Mississippi?"
New York City native, with a traditional Chinese mother, PI Lydia Chin is surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi, including a cousin, Jefferson Tam, who has been arrested, and Captain Pete Tam who is asking for help.  It's up to Lydia, with her partner Bill Smith, to prevent her cousin from being tried for murder.
One just can't beat a great opening with a touch of humor, especially when it's done so well.  That's what keeps one reading.
For those who have followed this series, it is wonderful to have a new entry.  For new readers, welcome and never fear.  Starting here, at the 12th book, isn't a problem as Rozen smoothly brings one into the fold.
Rozan does an excellent job of using Lydia's family history to inform one of American history.  Learning the history of Lydia's parents adds dimension to the character and establishes the theme. She also presents a very timely observation—"there's always somebody hatin' on everybody." … "Don't everybody always think their hate is different?"
Rozan paints a clear picture of life in small-town Mississippi.  What is particularly interesting is learning the history of Chinese groceries in black towns which built an economy of its own.  The immigration path of Mississippi is fascinating. 
The characters are well-developed and interesting.  It's fun to see urban Lydia so far out of her comfort zone, and Bill take advantage of his somewhat Southern roots.  Lydia and Bill balance one another perfectly in every way.  They are yin and yang not only in race, but in size, Luddite vs technology, and food choices.  This makes them real and appealing.  Each of the other characters holds their own, as well.  There is one character toward the end that is a particular treat.
The plot is very well done with just the right level of suspense.  The plot does get a bit twisty, but not so much that one can't follow it, and it takes one on a fascinating journey of places and people.
"Paper Son" is an excellent, traditional mystery which includes delightful characters, just enough humor and a wonderful ending.

PAPER SON (PI-Lydia Chin/Bill Smith-Mississippi-Contemp) - Ex
      Rozen, S.J. – 12th in series
      Pegasus Books, July 2019
Was this review helpful?
Cozy Mystery in Small Town Mississippi
This book is so good that I am getting the earlier books in the series. The story just flows! It is like a great TV detective show. There is a good back story, a fun side story, and a great mystery. I loved learning about the history of Chinese immigrants in the South. This is a cozy mystery with no gore, no sex, minimal physical violence and very mild 'bad language'.
Was this review helpful?
PAPER SON by S. J. Rozan is the twelfth Lydia Chin and Bill Smith mystery novel; it's the first, as far as I know, to take place in the Mississippi Delta rather than in New York's Chinatown.  Lydia and Bill travel to the South at the behest of her mother and Captain Pete Tam due to the death of Leland Tam, supposedly at the hands of his son, Jefferson. That is the first Lydia learns of the Tam branch of her family who are related to her father because several generations ago a Chin travelled to America as a paper son and adopted another man's name. The story becomes even more confusing due to the multiplicity of characters, generations, and races – black, white, Asian and many mixtures.  In addition, Rozan makes frequent use of idioms and colloquialisms like, "Nice enough [fellow], but always has some new, bright idea. Not one of 'em worth a bar of soap after a week's wash." That dialogue is fun and amusing at first, but eventually hinders the flow of the story and (at least my) ability to differentiate characters. That may be Rozan's underlying point about immigrants, appearance, class and even regional differences – that we are too quick to judge – since she says near the beginning, "One thing about the South.  Generally, even when you get what you expected, it turns out not to be what you thought." PAPER SON is a complicated mystery full of stereotypes and surprises. This new title received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.
Was this review helpful?
To of the more interesting protagonists  in genre fiction return in a new adventure as Lydia Chin and her partner Bill venture to the deep South at the behest of Rhee Chinese-American PI's irascible mother . Family ties are strong in Asian families, and Lydia reluctantly agrees to investigate when one is her shirt tail relatives is accused of a murder her mother adamantly refuses to believe a distant kinsman - one she's never met - could be guilty of murder.  Lydia and Bill are caught up  in a mystery signaled by the title - a "paper son" who's neither the victim or the killer, but whose illegal emigration from China to America holds the key to the mystery in this fascinating mystery
Was this review helpful?
I hadn’t come across this series before but I was drawn to the gorgeous cover and intriguing title and just picked it up spontaneously. 
I ended up enjoying it very much - I love a good crime solving couple like the next woman and the authentic Chinese angle combined with the atmospheric setting in the Deep South was something new and fresh and fascinating to me. And while I’m sure previous volumes will have contributed to the background and the layers of relationships of the main characters it worked perfectly well as a stand alone. 
The characters are believable, the plot is well-crafted, there’s a good dash of dry humour and just the right amount of historical background and local flavour to give the whole thing colour and substance. 
In short I loved it - I shall go and track down the others in the series!
Was this review helpful?
Lydia Chin's mother tells her to go to Clarksdale, Mississippi to investigate the case of a cousin she didn't know she had.  She also wants the White Baboon (Bill Smith) to go with her.  Jefferson Tam has been arrested for the murder of his father.  A PI doesn't usually work on murder cases, but Mrs. Chin knows that Jefferson must be innocent because no relative of her father could possibly be guilty.  The southern relatives are named Tam rather than Chin because Chin Song Zhae, her grandfather's brother came to the states as a paper son (he had to pretend to be the son of a current US resident).  When Lydia and Bill arrive at Captain Pete Tam's, they find that Jefferson (a computer jock) has escaped from prison.  

The escape makes the local policeman, Lucknell, more certain of his guilt.  Lucknell gives Lydia and Bill a hard time, but they plug away gradually finding out more about Jefferson and his father. There is a lot about race relations in the deep south, and being Chinese is only one step better than being black.  They find that Jefferson and his father, Leland Tam didn't get along well.  Leland wanted Jefferson to work in his grocery store, and Jefferson wanted to work with computers.  After the Police release the crime scene, Captain Pete takes Lydia and Bill to Leland's store, where the murder took place.  They find the entire store and the living quarters behind have been totally trashed.  

Near the end there is a battle between members of the druggie group and Lydia and Bill.  Fortunately, Lydia has gotten a call to 911, and Luckner arrives with the police, and suddenly realizes Lydia and Bill might be helping him!
Was this review helpful?
This book was a delightful read.  A mystery to solve intermixed with some first  and second generation Chinese culture in the Mississippi Delta.  Some background is given of the history of the first Chinese immigrants that moved into the area after the Civil War.  So besides the mystery it was fun to read some of these facts that I was not aware of.  This is not the first book in the series but it is the first one I read.  It can be very much been read as a stand-alone.
Was this review helpful?
Paper Son is the 12th title in the critically acclaimed Lydia Chin / Bill Smith series. Ghost Hero was published in 2011, and it was a joy to return to the series. The books alternate between Lydia and Bill’s narrative perspectives, and Paper Son is told from Lydia’s point of view. Lydia is a Chinese-American PI, who lives with her mother in New York’s Chinatown, while her sometimes partner, Bill Smith, is a cynical Army brat with Southern roots.

In Paper Son, Lydia and Bill leave Chinatown for the Deep South, to investigate a murder in the Chinese community, on the request of Lydia’s mother. A distant cousin is sitting in a Mississippi jail, and Lydia’s mother is convinced he’s innocent. “Family’s family.” She tells Lydia to go about the investigation exactly as she would in New York. But Lydia soon realizes that the Mississippi Delta is more foreign than she thought, from racial tensions, political prejudice, computer scams, to sweet tea and sugar cookies. Can she uncover the truth in the Mississippi Delta and please her mother? Luckily, she’s got Bill on her side and together, they’re an unbeatable team.

In this addition to the series, Rozan takes on the theme of illegal immigration, through the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that led to the rise in “paper sons”. As always, the mystery is gripping and well-plotted, but I did find myself missing Rozan’s atmospheric Chinatown setting. Having read the series from the start, it seemed incongruous to witness Lydia and Bill using cell phones and searching Facebook for clues, but there’s the same witty banter between the two characters as before and Lydia is as tough as ever. Sparks are still flying between Lydia and Bill, but will they act on them this time? You’ll have to read the book to find out!
Was this review helpful?
I’ll start by saying that I only ever award a one-star review to books I fail to finish, and I didn’t manage to get all the way through this one. I did try, in fact I got to almost the half-way point before it defeated me. It was the style of writing as much as anything, it just didn’t grab me: too much talk and too little action and I felt that the semi-comic verbal jousting between the main characters dominated the pages and got in the way of the story. 

So what of the story? Fans of this series (this is the twelfth book) will be aware that Lydia Chin is a Chinese born private detective living and working in NYC. Her partner is a big white Southern boy called Bill Smith. Lydia is advised by her mother that an unknown (to her) cousin has been arrested for the murder of her equally unknown uncle. She’s dispatched off to a small town in the Mississippi Delta to solve the case and free her up the cousin, who is presumed to be innocent by Chin’s mother. 

Now I like crime fiction stories and I prefer these to be played out in an American setting. I’m also fascinated by the Deep South, so this book really should really have been right up my street. But it never really got off the ground. At the point I closed it down and reached for an alternative offering very little of any consequence had happened and I’d tired of the yarns regarding why the Chinese had set up grocery stores across the Delta and how the tensions between the various racial groups who populate the area continue to play out. No tension was created and it just seemed to be meandering along, going nowhere. I found the whole thing unconvincing and dull. And I confess that I found Chin and Smith irritating. I’m sure that there are many readers who will lap this one up, but it’s not my cup of tea I’m afraid.
Was this review helpful?
New York PI Lydia Chin is surprised when her mother tells her about a cousin Lydia didn’t know she had is in jail in Clarksdale, Mississippi for killing his father Leland. She insists that Lydia travel to the Mississippi Delta with her partner Bill Smith to set Jefferson Tam free. The case starts off badly when Lydia learns that Jefferson had escaped from jail and is in hiding. Then the detecting duo goes with her uncle Captain Pete to Leland's grocery store and finds that the place has been ransacked. Was this the work of random thieves or was the killer looking for something? Lydia meets another relative, Reynold, who is running for governor. Deep-seated racism, a long-held family secret, a revealing photograph are key factors.

This was a great read and well worth the long wait for the return of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith.

I received an eARC via Netgalley and Pegasus Books with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book and provided this review.
Was this review helpful?
★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2 (rounded up)
This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
One thing I've said (possibly too often) as I talk about this series is how much I enjoy the conversations between Lydia and Bill -- but I think one of the conversations between Lydia and her mother tops anything the partners have to say (until the last conversation, anyway), and the rest weren't far behind. We start off with Mrs. Chin telling Lydia that she has to go to Mississippi -- and take Bill along -- to investigate a murder. Long-time readers of this series will be forgiven the need to re-read that sentence, I assure you that it's correct. One of Lydia's cousins (yes, she has cousins in the Mississippi Delta -- she's as shocked as you are) is accused of murdering his father. Her mother wants Lydia to go down and prove his innocence. That he's innocent isn't ever in doubt for a moment -- he's related to Lydia's father, ergo, he's innocent. Lydia doesn't accept her mother's logic, but feels obligated to try to help this cousin she's never heard of before now, so she and Bill set off for the Delta. It's simply a dynamite first chapter, and the hook was set immediately.

Upon their arrival, Lydia and Bill find themselves neck deep in a tangled web of history, race, meth, gambling (both your more traditional varieties and purely 21st Century versions), politics and a even more race (it is Mississippi). Lydia's cousin Jefferson is in his mid-20's, a computer whiz of some sort with questionable ethics. He's called to come to his father's grocery store for some reason -- they argue, and Jefferson leaves to cool off. When he returns, he finds his father bleeding out from a knife wound. Naturally, that's when the police arrive, taking him into custody immediately. He's bloody, standing over the victim and weapon -- and sure, his fingerprints are all over the knife. Seems like an open and shut case, right?

Jefferson's uncle, Captain Pete, is at the front of the line of those who doubt this -- which is why he called his cousin's widow to get her PI daughter down to help. Pete's a professional gambler -- precisely the kind of person Mrs. Chin wouldn't like to acknowledge, but is friendly, hospitable and charming. Lydia and Bill warm to him quickly and he becomes a source of comfort as well as a source of information for the duo as they dive in to the investigation. Soon after arriving in Mississippi, they also meet another of Lydia's cousins -- a nephew to Pete, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Lydia can't believe she's related to a candidate for governor and she's never heard of him. What else has her mother been keeping from her? Just from her conversations with Pete and Raymond Tam (the candidate), Lydia's overwhelmed with family history that she didn't expect to exist, much less be able to understand it all. It doesn't derail the work that she and Bill are doing at all, but it threatens to distract her more than once. Adding the candidate into the mix guarantees that the water will get a lot muddier before it starts to become clear.

Lydia's voice is as strong, engaging and entertaining as ever -- possibly better than ever. I want to compare it to vintage Spenser, but that seems wrong (I'm not sure why I want to compare it to Parker at his best or why I shouldn't -- but that's where I am). She's funny, she's smart, she's insightful, she's in a very alien place and is doing her best to acclimate. Bill seemed under utilized a little bit this time around -- but (as he himself would point out), this was Lydia's family, her case -- he was just around for support. And he did come to her aid at pivotal moments -- laying his native Southern accent on a little thick to help pave the way with some of the locals and to diffuse tense situations. Captain Pete is a great character, and I wish he wasn't designed to be a one-and-done kind of guy, but I can't see him coming up to Chinatown anytime soon to have tea with Mrs. Chin. Actually, I could easily read another novel or two with this cast -- from the Public Defender staff to the people that hang out at the grocery store and all points in between. I'm not sure how Rozan could orchestrate those novels without feeling a bit contrived, but I'd be in for them.(*)

(*) Sure, I'd be in for Lydia and Bill Go Grocery Shopping or Bill and Lydia's Day at the Recycling Center , but that's beside the point..

I enjoy tea, but I'm no expert on it -- I'm no where near the tea aficionado that Lydia is (even keeping Bill's cupboards better stocked than he understands), but I loved her reaction to Sweet Tea (not just because I think she's right). Using food is a great shortcut to revealing character traits, and Rozan does a great job throughout this book, but particularly on this point, of using that peculiar Southern version of tea to show us sides of Lydia.

Rozan's at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she's using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She's displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930's who fled to Shanghai ( The Shanghai Moon ), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky ), Small Town High School Football ( Winter and Night ), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene ( Ghost Hero ), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It's hard to ask for more.

As interesting as that is, the heart of the novel is in the idea of family. It's a strong theme throughout the series, actually --- whether it be Lydia's strong sense of family, or the found family in the partnership of Bill and Lydia -- or the many damaged families they encounter in their work. In Paper Son family shapes the warp and woof of the narrative -- it's Mrs. Chin's confidence in the innocence of her husband's relations, and Captain Pete's call for help that brings the duo to the Delta. Lydia fights the impulse to believe Jefferson and Pete (and others) just because they're family, yet wants thing to be the way her mother believes they are (even when -- particularly when -- the facts don't seem to support it). Bill even encounters a fellow Smith, and while no one believes for a second they share anything beyond the name in common, there's a connection. At it's core, Paper Son is a story about the sacrifice, support, trust, and dysfunction that comes along from strong family (blood relation or found family) -- not to mention all of the unintended consequences of that sacrifice, support, trust and dysfunction. I'm tempted to keep going, but I'd end up revealing too much.

The mystery itself is up to Rozan's high standards -- you may guess the identity of the killer fairly early on (and you may not), but you will not see the motivation coming until it's past the point of inevitability. The ending feels a little rushed, but I can't think of a way to improve upon it -- and any rush was actually probably just me trying to discover how things would play out. The first half of the denouement with Lydia's family is heartwarming -- and, sure, borderline cheesy, but Rozan earned it. The second half is less cheesy and will fill even jaded readers with hope and joy. It's just a great way to close the book.

If Paper Son isn't S. J. Rozan and the series at their best, it's hard to tell. For book 12 in a series to be this good almost defies the odds, the years that separated this book from it's predecessor didn't slow her down a bit (I honestly was afraid we'd be looking at something like Lehane's return to Kenzie and Genarro in Moonlight Mile after 11 years). Long-time fans will be delighted in the return of this pair. I don't know that this is the best introduction to the series, but it'd work just fine -- you learn everything you need to know here. Fans of PI fiction starring smart, capable (and yes, mouthy) women will find a lot to reward them in these pages.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.
Was this review helpful?
It's been a few years since I've read one of SJ Rozan's books. I've always preferred the ones told from Bill's POV but I absolutely loved this book.

Lydia's mom asks her to go to Mississippi to prove that her "cousin" did not commit the crime that he is accused of. She even wants her to take Bill! 

I loved reading the history of the Chinese in the Delta. I had never heard of this chapter of American history. Lydia meets all sorts of relatives that she never knew existed. We meet all sorts of characters, good and bad as Lydia and Bill attempt to prove the truth. 

Great Book.
Was this review helpful?
It’s been a long wait since the previous Lydia Chin/Bill Smith story, and I feared we’d never see another. But Rozan deftly picks up where she left off, giving us a story that seamlessly reintroduces us to the main characters of the series and sends them off on a new investigation.

Lydia’s stern mother surprises her with the news that there is a branch of the family in the unlikely locale of small-town Mississippi. She further astonishes Lydia with her insistence that Lydia must go there immediately to prove a distant cousin innocent of killing his father—and that she should take Bill with her. When the two arrive in Mississippi, they meet some of that family and discover some old secrets.

Lydia’s great-grandfather’s brother came from China to the U.S. as a “paper son,” pretending to be a relation of someone already here to gain entry. The deception included a name change which has lasted through the generations. As someone who grew up in New York City, Lydia views the Deep South as almost a foreign country, with customs, history, and prejudices that are odd to her, including the fact that Chinese grocers had been common in the Delta. When Lydia’s accused cousin escapes jail, it makes it all the more difficult for her and Bill to ferret out what had happened.

Their investigation takes them on a number of twists and turns, exposing history and secrets and reinforcing to them both how much family—born, found, and made—means. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Lydia and Bill back in action and hope it will not be nearly as long a wait until I can read of their next adventure.
Was this review helpful?
Paper Son (Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12) 
by S.J. Rozan (Goodreads Author)  
Scott Parsons's review Jun 15, 2019  ·  edit
really liked it
bookshelves: detective, mystery 

Lydia Chin and Bill Smith travel from New York to the Mississsippi Delta to investigate the alleged murder of "cousin" Leland Chin by his son Jefferson. But these are paper cousins. After the Transcontinental Railway was completed some Chinese had come to America using false papers misidentifying them as relatives of Chinese already here. Lydia learns that she has a bunch of these so-called relatives in the Delta. Bill and Lydia are kept quite busy trying to sort out the relationships among the various characters they encounter there.

This is a mystery but a somewhat subdued one with a tangled web of family intrigue. 

It was enjoyable but did not exactly grab me by the throat. It did not really fit in the genre that i most like to read.

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for providing me with an ARC.
Was this review helpful?
Lydia Chin and Bill Smith are back in a mystery that takes them to the Mississippi delta, where they become entangled in a murder in Lydia’s extended family. The plot unfolds fairly linearally  in a setting and with characters that are fairly realistic. While the story is interesting enough, the series has taken a turn away from its edgier predecessors. Now that Lydia and Bill have returned I hope we’ll see them more often in more energetic circumstances.
Was this review helpful?
Lydia is sent to Mississippi by her mother, along with Bill, to help out a 'cousin' who has been accused of murdering his father.  This is a side of her family (on her father's side) that Lydia knew nothing about.  In fact she was surprised to find out that there was a whole community of Chinese in the Mississippi Delta.

Turns out that there are a whole lot of 'relatives' she is related to in the area around Clarksdale MS.  Her cousin who is the Congressman from the area is in a tight race for the Democratic nomination for Governor.  There are some interesting characters and the regular southern Yahoos but the story does move along and has some unexpected twists and turns.  Good for a plane ride or at the beach.
Was this review helpful?
4.5 stars

A stellar entry in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. They are totally out of their element in this one, having decamped to the Mississippi Delta where Lydia inexplicably has relatives. And one of her relatives is accused of murder.

As always, the interplay between Bill and Lydia is the big draw, the the characterizations and plotting are excellent. The depiction of Mississippi culture is well-drawn and compelling.

A superior read ... Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Welcome back to private investigators Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, two of the most interesting personalities in contemporary detective fiction. Their newest case takes them away from their New York City comfort zone after Lydia's formidable mother asks them to help a "paper trail" relative in the Mississippi Delta who has been accused of patricide. As usual, the duo succeeds in unraveling the threads of a complex plot, with the unexpected consequence of revealing long-kept Chin family secrets. The author's established strengths with characterizations and settings are somewhat undermined here by stock depictions of Deep South people and places, but this is still a fine choice for page-turning light reading. Note: The publisher supplied an advance reader's copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?