I was sent this book by Steven Roth and was very intrigued by the description. Socrates Cheng is an ex lawyer who runs a pen shop in Washington. Someone has stolen the Mandarin Yellow, a famous Chinese fountain pen but has left behind other items worth more. Socrates is asked to investigate it by his girlfriend’s father who doesn’t like him because he’s only half Chinese. Whoever stole the pen is determined to keep it a secret and is willing to murder to ensure that happens.
I quite enjoyed this book. It was an interesting take on a seemingly simple case of robbery. However sadly I did find it a bit too long and struggled to get to the end. The plot was good, but I rather felt that some bits were just for padding. One example is of a visit by Socrates parents who turn up with a load of their own issues but this didn’t seem to be anything other than filler rather than a plot device.
The character of Socrates was a little hard to pin down. At times I felt I was on his side, and at other times I felt he needed someone to shake him and wake him up. Personally I also felt that some bits were rather far fetched. When someone was murdered it was made clear that there was no robbery and therefore the victim still had their wallet on them. However the police refused to say who they thought it was until someone had identified the body. This seemed a bit strange to me. Equally the fact that Socrates could just close his shop whenever he wanted was a little annoying.
However what I found quite fascinating about this book, and what kept me reading was the wealth of knowledge about the Chinese culture. The novel manages to almost provide a Chinese history lesson within the narrative of a story which makes it easy to keep track of. I thought the clash of the three cultures (the Chinese, the American and the Greek) gave a good grounding to the story and was an interesting background.
Overall I did enjoy this book. I suspect with a bit of firmer editing and less padding this could be an excellent novel. I also think that for a first novel it was a very good start, and it would be interesting to see how the writing and character of Socrates developes.