Now that she’s been rescued from her kidnappers (On the Line, 2010, etc.), Chinatown PI Lydia Chin deserves a bit of a holiday: a madcap search for some paintings that may or may not be authentic, and may or may not actually exist.
Jeff Dunbar is clear about what he wants: to locate the most recent paintings by Chau Chun, the Ghost Hero late of the Beijing Art Institute. But he’s not clear about anything else. He doesn’t give Lydia his real name. He doesn’t tell her why he needs to hire a private eye, and one with no expertise tracking down artworks, to find the paintings instead of waiting for them to come on the market. He can’t explain why Chau would have any new work available when he was killed in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago. He doesn’t warn Lydia that he’s not the only person looking for the paintings. So she and her partner Bill Smith are dumbfounded when Jack Lee, the specialist friend of Bill’s they consult, tells them that he’s working the same case too. Once Jack reveals the identity of his client—Bernard Yang, the NYU professor who held the Ghost Hero’s hand as he died—the game is afoot, and what a game it is, with no bloodletting and not much suspense but more cons and double-crosses than The Sting. Before the case is finally laid to rest, Bill will disguise himself as wealthy, mobbed-up art patron Vladimir Oblomov and Jack as art authenticator Dr. Lin Qiao-xiang to fool greedy gallery owner Doug Haig, with new revelations of other players’ deceptions arriving every ten minutes.
Pleasantly foolish, insubstantial and harmless, though Bill’s extended turn as Oblomov is a little hard to take. Are the lowlife creeps who chase high art really that gullible?