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Tears of the Dragon: An Elodie Browne Mystery (Elodie Browne Mysteries) Paperback – 1 Aug 2011
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"When you think about crime in Chicago in the 1930s, it's bootleggers and gangsters who come to mind, not tong wars and Chinese politics. One of the delights of "Tears of the Dragon," Holly Baxter's first book in a proposed series of mysteries about a Chicago family struggling to survive the Depression, is the way she plants a rare and colorful Asian flower in the overused ground of the period. Elodie Browne, a promising writer, supports her widowed mother and three sisters with a low-paying job in an office in a huge new building largely emptied by the financial upheavals of the day. Her friend Bernice, a flighty but generous young woman, earns a bit more working for a Chinese importer of antiques and jade. Browne goes through several genre staples, like finding a body and witnessing a murder. But what really earns the early raves the book has received is the way Baxter (a pseudonym for Paula Gosling, an American writer who lives in England and has won several awards there) blends her
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The prime money maker is Elodie who works as a script writer for radio. One night she stops off at the office to drop off an idea for her boss, but the elevator stops at the tenth floor instead of the fifteenth. Elodie hears noises that frighten her. She tells her friend Bernice Barker, who tells her she is being silly and gets her a gig as a waitress at a party hosted by Chinaman Lee Change, an antiques importer. When a dying man arrives at the gala, Elodie sees a link to what she heard at the office and the homicide, but also wonders if the killer thinks she saw something that would identify the culprit.
TEARS OF THE DRAGON is a fabulous Depression Era Chicago cozy that readers of historical fiction will fully gain pleasure from. The story line provides an interesting glimpse at the 1930s in the Windy City through a heroine and to a lesser degree her sisters and best friend struggling to make a living in a male dominated world in which men cannot find legal work. The mystery slowly comes into focus which enhances the strength of understanding the period and the female protagonist struggling with what to do if anything.
Elodie Browne (think Jo March) is an advertising copywriter who helps to bring in money for the family consisting of her widowed mother and three sisters. Mumma (Marmee), Marie (Meg), Maybelle and Alice are the rest of the family.
Elodie's proposal for a radio show leads her to disaster. She stops at the office late one night to drop off the plot, and accidentally gets off on the wrong floor. When she hears that a man disappeared from that floor, the sounds she heard become suspicious. When she sees the same man shot at the home of a wealthy Chinese import dealer, she is intrigued enough to investigate, despite the warnings of a policeman. Can she trust the police in 1930s Chicago? Who can she trust?
Baxter has plopped the cast of Little Women into Depression-era Chicago with success. The family life is reminiscent of the classic, which causes the contrast with the rampant crime and scandal in the city to be all the greater. Elodie is an innocent character, whose curiousity and determination that crime shouldn't pay leads her into the unlikely world of mob rule and Chinese Tongs. Baxter pulls it off successfully.
Baxter rightly describes Prohibition Era Chicago as a city controlled by big league bootleggers, protected by the corrupt Chicago police, and by the pervasive internecine warfare between the various Syndicates (Bugs Moran and Al Capone). What mainly drives the plot, however, is the influence of China's civil war on Chicago's small, tight-knit Chinatown. Inexplicably, Baxter portrays the Chinese Communists who are attempting to raise money for their cause as villains, while casting those supporting Chiang Kai Shek's Kuomintang government as the good guys working to "preserve Chinese history," and to "allow religious freedom," and to "maintain the ideals of Dr. Sun Yat-sen's democracy."
The survival strategies of the Browne family, which includes their radio program listening habits, provide welcome insights into domestic life in this economically tenuous time. The limited options for women to become power players in either the job market or in politics also becomes clear. Less successful is the fact that the plot narrative too often switches off and on between the various incidental characters rather than letting Elodie and Archie move it along on their own.
This is published writer Holly Baxter's (aka Paula Gosling) first historical mystery.