In a context-free vacuum, China Trade is a fine, entertaining mystery. I liked the characters, especially the lead and her partner (though the “Will they or won’t they?” aspect was annoying), the plot is fine, the Chinatown setting done well. It’s a good start to a series that would potentially lead to more.
It’s really tough to get over the idea of a white person (SJ Rozan) writing a first-person perspective novel from the POV of a Chinese woman.
Now don’t get me wrong: I think it’s fine for people to write from the perspective of characters who don’t share their race or ethnicity. It’s limiting if we only write what we know. That said, there’s a long history of white creators co-opting stories and vantage points of non-white people for commodification.
And this really messed with how I enjoyed the book. I’m probably not as well versed on the subtleties of orientalist racism as I should be. So I’m reading this with some trepidation the whole time. Protection gangs, paternal figures, demanding mothers…maybe these are truths of the diasporic Chinese experience in America? Or maybe they’re just stereotypes? I feel like Rozan tried to avoid stereotyping but again, it’s tough for me to say with certainty.
I guess this was more of a review of the context of the book than the book itself. Apologies. I tried to do some research on how Chinese-American folks felt about Rozan writing from their cultural perspective but, while she is a popular author, she’s not on the best-selling level of Stephen King or Nora Roberts to merit such attention. I think I need to do some more digging before deciding whether or not to proceed with this series.