Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Shanghai Tunnel

Perhaps one has to live in Portland, Oregon in order to be able to appreciate Sharan Newman's The Shanghai Tunnel, or perhaps one just has to be discriminating enough to appreciate this slower paced but finely nuanced mystery novel. As you have probably guessed, this is going to be a review in praise of The Shanghai Tunnel.

With her husband's sudden death, Emily Stratton finds herself facing several options: returning to China, where she had spent most of her life, establishing herself in San Francisco as a rich widow, or proceeding to Portland, Oregon, her dead husband's home town, and settling down there with her teenaged son. Having no illusions about the kind of man her husband was and the unscrupulous business practices that he probably participated in, Emily is determined to detach her son and herself from anything illegal and sordid, and the first step is to examine her husband's business papers. To her dismay, her husband's business partners seem reluctant to surrender his papers to her, protesting that she should trust them to have her best interests at heart, and that she wouldn't be able to understand the complexities of the business enterprises anyway. Used to being completely dominated by her husband, Emily is not about to allow her husband's business partners to treat her the same way; and anyway their reluctance to deal with her only confirms her suspicions that there is something untoward about her husband's business dealings. Determined to discover all, Emily presses on and soon finds herself wondering if she has bitten off than she can chew...

Like Sharan Newman's excellent Catherine LeVendeur series, The Shanghai Tunnel is an excellently researched historical novel, full of wonderful and detailed period details and fairly reeking of atmosphere -- I'll confess that The Shanghai Tunnel has inspired me to read up more diligently about Portland's history. But to get back to the somewhat reserved response so far to Sharan Newman's latest novel; it is true the book did unfold a tad slowly, juxtaposing between Emily's investigation into what's going on, and her responses to life without her brutal husband, and her new life in Portland. For readers who prefer more dynamic, forceful heroines, Emily's retiring and reserved ways may frustrate; however, I'd advise everyone to keep an open mind. The Shanghai Tunnel is a very different kind of mystery novel -- the type that almost requires slow and careful reading so that one can not only appreciate the mystery at hand but also slow transformation of Emily Stratton from a downtrodden wife into someone who comes into her own. All in all a very rich and absorbing read.

No comments: