reviewed by Gail Byrd
Get ready for a thoroughly modern mystery, written with a focus on the new millennium with all its technology, entrepreneurs, and independent thought. The main character is a young, gay, Chinese woman who prefers biking as her method of traveling around New York City, is an avid reader of an electronic mystery series featuring Inspector Yuan as her ideal detective, and who sees herself as a detective capable of solving any issue that she confronts.
She quits the job her brother got her, after refusing to go to law school even though she aced the LSATs, and has taken a job with a secret organization whose function is to verify the identity of people who sign up for dating apps when others on the same app have questions. They work completely under the radar, utilizing technology that, if it exists, may give you second thoughts about blithely signing agreements with any new computer service you decide to utilize.
Claudia Lin is a member of the 20- to 30-year-old generation who has grown up using all the available electronic devices. She is not a geek, she is simply very comfortable with all things digital. Her vocational goal is to be a detective, following in the footsteps of her favorite digital detective and to that end she takes her current job, keeping the information a secret from everyone in her family who would not understand her choices and consider them frivolous, if not worse.
As to her family, there is her over-achieving brother who has made a great deal of money and is always available to bail Claudia out if she needs help. He’s the one who found her the job she quits, and is always there for her to lean on. There is her sister, also reasonably successful in the fashion industry, drop dead gorgeous and the complete opposite of Claudia who prefers tee-shirts, tennis shirts, jeans and no need for make-up or complex hairdos. And there is the mother, whom no one can please.
While the three siblings live on their own, they all get together every Sunday at their mother’s house for dinner, but the family dynamic is much more dysfunctional than that sounds. They spend their time watching reruns of Chinese television, sniping at one another, and being constant thorns in their mother’s side. This atmosphere is all overshadowed by the past, where their mother left her son and first daughter with their grandparents, took Claudia and moved to America. The resentment toward Mom and Claudia is never far from the surface during these family dinners.
Initially Claudia is relegated to spreadsheets and other boring things until a young woman who has signed on to a dating service comes to their company wanting them to verify a couple of people she has been chatting with on-line. This is Claudia’s first case, and where she begins to learn some of the more clandestine tools the company uses. It may give some readers of this story questions about how much of their personal information and data is out there, available for anyone who has the right tracking software.
Things get more complicated when the young woman dies and the case is closed as a suicide. Claudia has her doubts and decides to investigate on her own, using the tools and methods she has learned from immersing herself in the Inspector Yaun stories. As the reader might expect, she makes multiple mistakes, causes her own share of chaos, and finally frustrates her new bosses to the point they fire her. No problem, she decides to investigate on her own.
Things get more complicated when the young woman’s sister first asks the company to look into her sister’s death, then changes her mind. When Claudia decides to continue, she receives threatening texts and it seems an attempt is made on her life. Nothing she learns disabuses her belief the case is one of murder, and as she continues to pursue her investigation she once again joins forces with her former boss. This case is concluded in this book, and there are some hints there may be more cases involving the same group of people focusing on the same digital world in the future.
The characters are unique and well-drawn. While there may have been a couple of efforts on Claudia’s part that felt almost like repeats and a slight slowing of the pace, for the most part the pace is good and escalates well as it moves toward the conclusion. Particularly for readers in the 20- to 30-year-old age range, the people in this book will feel totally recognizable.
My thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing for providing an advance copy for this review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
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