Book Review: Return to Dust by Andrew Lanh

Return To Dust
A Rick Van Lam Mystery #2
Andrew Lanh
Poisoned Pen Press, October 2015
ISBN 978-1-4642-0426-5

Billed as a Rick Van Lam Mystery, the novel has more atmosphere and character than one usually expects from a good crime novel. As a consequence, the characters and their backgrounds take up far more space and time than does the careful, sometimes plodding, efforts of the novel’s detective, Rick Van Lam, to answer a rather simple question. Was Marta Kowalski murdered or did she simply slip and fall of a bridge while under the influence?

Rick Van Lam is an Amerasian, a sad by-product of that disastrous war in Viet Nam. Van Lam makes a dangerous trek to America as a young boy. Now he’s a relatively calm and accomplished investigator for a large insurance company. He’s stationed in a bedroom community outside Hartford, Connecticut, where lives a sizeable group of Hmong and other refugees from SE Asia. His relationship to the community is fraught because Lam is not pure blood and many in the small community resent his very existence. That attitude interferes with his investigation. It also offers the author many opportunities to expound on the unique troubles of this group of Asian transfers as they continue to struggle to adapt to their new country.

The woman who died seemed to be an inoffensive sort, semi-retired, she cleaned houses and apartments for a wide assortment of people in the small bedroom community and despite resistance at almost every turn, Investigator Lam persists, wading through thickets of prejudice, suspicion and occasional assistance. Ultimately, of course, he solves the mystery of Marta’s death and in the process, delivers a long and occasionally tortuous dissertation on the outflow of the disaster that was that war in Vietnam.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Black Minute by Christopher Valen

The Black Minute
Christopher Valen
North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 2009
ISBN No. 13-978-0-87839-332-9
Trade Paperback

Detective John Santana of the St. Paul Police Department escaped from Colombia and the fear is still in his mind that one day assassins will find him.  His sleep is often disturbed by dreams and nightmares.  He sometimes has the feeling that the nightmares become more vivid as he gets close to solving a case.

When a beautiful young Hmong woman is found dead it seems that this will be a simple case to solve.  As Santana proceeds with his investigation he finds that the case is anything but simple.  The girl’s name is Mai Yang and she is identified as a prostitute. Santana learns that she is the daughter of General Yang, a prominent Hmong political figure.

Mai Yang’s death is not the only one Santana is investigating.  Soon Santana has several bodies to deal with and must decide if the deaths are the result of one murderer or a matter of revenge.

Grace Chandler discovered the body of Mai Yang.  When Santana interviews Grace, he discovers that she is the daughter of another prominent political figure, David Chandler.  Santana is attracted to Grace and the feeling is mutual.   The relationship is on rocky ground before it begins because Santana is forced to investigate Grace’s family as well as incidents in her past.

John Santana was introduced in Christopher Valen’s first book White Tombs.  This second book is just as exciting as the first and one that keeps the reader guessing right up to the final page. Either book can be read as a stand-alone but I hope Valen brings us more stories involving Detective Santana.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, November 2009.