Private investigator Ling Wan-Ju, or Lydia Chin, has problems enough with a headstrong mother who is refusing to move to more secure accommodation, and her previous associate Bill Smith, who has disappeared from her radar. Her friend, Joel Pilarsky, an exuberant Jew, persuades her to help a client of his who tracks down lost jewellery that was seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The only clues are a bundle of letters sent by a young woman, Rosalie, to her mother en route and from Singapore, fleeing Nazi oppression. The letters seem to tell nothing more than a young girl’s naivety blossoming into romance, garnered from a friendship with Kai-Rong, an influential Chinese heading home. Lydia does not know how she can help with the case, but when Joel is murdered, she is determined to find out who killed him, and what he found out about the Shanghai Moon; a brooch that is renowned to be a beautiful work of art. She is not the only one on the trail; a fugitive from China who kills to cover his tracks, and three relatives of Kai-Rong who have separate agendas. And then Bill appears back on the scene.
Not so much a trail of blood, but a trail of letters, but it is no less fascinating for that. Lydia has to deal with a whole raft of emotions and protocols, and comes up against some frustrating dead ends and false trails. Although it feels pretty unlikely that three relatives of Kai-Rong are practically on Lydia’s doorstep, you can ignore this as the characters are described beautifully. She builds a picture of Chinatown you can almost smell and taste, with some interesting insights into the protocols that are obviously still followed.
This is a detective story unravelling the secrets of over 50 years previous, and most of the original perpetrators of the mystery are long passed away. But I guess it is much like an archaeological dig, as Lydia gradually reveals the secrets of the past with careful sifting, whilst being engrossed in Rosalie’s world through her letters, which are more help to her than she thinks.
The tension is built nicely, with a fairly surprising but satisfying end. A very enjoyable read.