Cover Image: Paper Son

Paper Son

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Member Reviews

Lydia Chin's mother asks Lydia and Bill Smith to travel to the Mississippi Delta to investigate the murder of Leland Chin by his son Jefferson. Lydia did not know she had cousins in the Delta, which is a very long way from New York. She discovers that this branch of the family is not really related to hers, except via a paper trail, which was the way Chinese families were able to bring relatives to the United States after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. They would establish paper trails for immigration purposes. When Lydia and Bill arrive, they meet with Captain Pete, another paper family member, who supports himself by gambling. They also discover Reynolds Tan, another cousin who is running for Congress. As Bill and Lydia investigate, they discover there are secrets in the Delta, secrets that can get you killed. I am so glad to see this series return; it has been a while. Bill and Lydia are a very interesting couple and the plot is intricate and filled with immigration information I did not know. Recommended.
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Lydia Chin and Bill Smith are back at it...this time in the deltas of Mississippi. When Lydia’s mother reveals that Lydia has family down South, and one relative has been accused of patricide, Lydia is cornered into heading down to help solve the murder. As Bill and she meet family members and get a big taste of what life means to different groups in Mississippi, she navigates what it means to be family, to be Chinese in the South, and to reconfigure all she thought she knew about her past. 

While the characterizations are strong, and Rozan is adept at descriptive writing, the plot drags on for too long, and there were many parts that could’ve been pared to hold the reader’s attention. However, the ending is meaty and satisfactory. Would recommend as a weekend read.
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I love this series and was very excited to read this long awaited book.  I love Bill Smith and Lydia Chin!  The story was good and lots of interesting characters.  It was enjoyable and only lacked some of the suspense that others in the series had. Still a solid episode in this series.
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Yahooza!  They're baaack!  Lydia and Bill are back after a long absence and are we glad!  You start reading the book and it's like your old friends haven't skipped a beat.  They're in the Mississippi  Delta this time - you won't believe the impetus to go there.  The man jailed for murder manages to break out of prison, so there's not a lot to go on in this case.  Following the scant clues gives Lydia an up close and personal introduction to the Mississippi Delta.  Her partner, Bill, lived in the South when he was younger which is a major help to Lydia as she navigates the foreign culture that is the Delta.  It's a joy to have them back and I can't wait for the next one!
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Lydia and Bill in the deep South--an inspired road trip. Rich with suspense and threaded with suspense and a wonderful sense of time and place. One of the best reads in the series.
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So exciting to see a Lydia and Bill mystery again. The characters are just the way I remember them, though perhaps a bit older. The mystery takes them to cousins Lydia didn't know she had in a place where she doesn't expect to find relatives - the Mississippi delta, where Chinese immigrants moved when their work building western railroads had ended, opening grocery stores in small, impoverished towns. Some immigrants, coming after the Exclusion Act, came on dodgy papers - being "paper sons" that didn't meet immigration rules. It's a fresh and fascinating setup. 

That said (and maybe it was just my mood at the time, or my over-excitement seeing another in this series coming out), it felt a bit flat to me. The mystery was both complicated and somewhat of a stretch in terms of motivations, though it comments on relationships in ways that could have been powerful. There's little description that puts readers in the delta. However, the dialogue does, and is really well done, bringing home the reality of Chinese Americans who have a southern drawl and idiom. 

So props for bringing Bill and Lydia back. Not quite as good as I expected, though.
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Lydia Chen is a Chinese-American PI living in NYC. She partners with Bill Smith. Momma Chen tells Lydia about an unknown side of the family living in the Mississippi Delta area. Lydia had no clue she even had relatives in the south. Wondering why her mom was bringing this up now, Lydia is told that one of her cousins, a Jefferson Tam, has just been arrested for the murder of his father, Leland Tam, a local shopkeeper. Mom does not believe it’s true, she just knows, and that Lydia and Bill must go to Mississippi and prove his innocence. Don’t argue with mom.

Lydia and Bill head south to an entirely unknown place. Yes, Jefferson has been charged with the knife-murder of Leland, but as he was being transported to the county lockup, he somehow escaped. Lydia and Bill head over to Leland’s store where they meet up with another cousin, Pete, a professional gambler. The store has been ransacked. Jefferson is a fugitive. And the sheriff’s deputy/detective ain’t happy with a couple Yankee PIs nosing in on his case.

Throughout the investigation, more relatives pop up, including Reynold Tam, current congressman currently in a primary campaign for governor. His chief-of-staff (and son-in-law) is yet another distant relative.

The investigation twists one way (redneck meth dealers) then another (online sports gambling) then another (meth-head’s daughter dating a black law student), and yet another (mixed race parentage that go back more than a few generations). All the while Lydia is trying to figure out the Delta culture, lingo, and food preferences.

Turns out SJ Rozen, an Edgar Award winner (meaning she has the chops) has nearly a dozen and a half books to her credit. Mostly Lydia Chen/Bill Smith mysteries. Paper Son was a reasonable diversion after the heavy lifting from up on Bull Mountain. Easy reading, somewhat lighthearted, not overly violent, and well developed. Even with all the various generations, cousins, 2nd cousins twice removed, etc. When the reading bug hits and one is looking for something that won’t drag you down into a filthy gutter, a Chen/Smith book just might be just the ticket.


Where does the title come from? In the late 1800s, before laws forbidding the Chinese from coming to the US (yes, that did happen), Chinese immigrants would get established in the US, then send for relatives (usually a son of relatives wanting a better life for the child) who’d stayed in China. Papers would be purchased that confirm that the boys were indeed the children of the immigrants and they were admitted as their children. Thus the term, Paper Son. Sort of the 19th century version of today’s ‘anchor babies.’
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I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Although this is my first time with this author I can see that this novel is quite a few installments into a regular series.  I can say that I enjoyed the novel as a stand-alone and would not warn the reader about reading the series out of order.  I didn’t notice any spoilers or any plot lines that were carry overs from prior installments.

The Paper Son is well written, the characters interesting and likeable, and the plot is well crafted.  The reason that I only give this mystery 3 stars has more to do with my taste than the book itself.  I prefer mysteries that are edgier and my taste runs more to dark fiction and noir.  Even though the book deals with a murder and, therefore, murderous characters, there just wasn’t any menace.  As I was reading Paper Son I felt the lack of any hard edge or danger, which I fully expected given the plot of an Asian detective coming to the deep south to investigate a murder allegedly committed by a relative of hers.  Any racial tensions were minimal and even the worst racists were quite polite about it.  I was expecting something like Mississippi Burning and I got Driving Miss Daisy.

The historical angle to the story—the concept of the “paper son”—a manufactured relative to allow immigration to the US from Asia, was interesting as was the prevalence of Asian grocers and merchants in the deep South.   I felt the depth of the research and I also enjoyed the Asian point of view and mindset of Lydia Chin, an American born Asian private investigator of Chinese origin.  The yankee/southerner aspect was entertaining if not overly stereotypical and whitewashed into blandness.

As with most readers, I have quite a few reader friends and they are all over the map as to taste.  I can easily think of several friends that would enjoy this book and others that would most likely feel the same way that I did.  Because tastes vary, this novel, which I stress is well written, is most likely to other’s tastes if not for mine.

3 Stars
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Legal troubles, a cousin Lydia never knew existed, Mississippi travel now on the bucket list.
Ok, what is going on and why?
Lydia is an American born Chinese private detective who must use her skills and talent to uncover the truth in the deep south.
Mississippi has changed over the years and everything is not coming up roses during this process.
What she uncovers may just make or break this case. 

Thank you to SJ Rozan , the publisher, Amazon kindle for this ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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