The Case of the Goblin Pearls (Chinatown Mystery #1) by Laurence Yep
So this year I have a bonafide Lunar New Year/Chinese New Year recipe as my friend Dao taught me to make egg rolls. So as that will be posting at the end of the week, I needed a book to match.
I had seen this series at the library and was intrigued by it, so when the time came, I saw no better time than now to read and review it.
This is a children’s book, that’s why it is posting on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. The book is set in Chinatown in the ’90s, and oh wow is it full of ’90s stuff. I enjoyed it as I have been to Chinatown a ton of times when I went to college in the Bay Area. It is always cool when you watch or read something and you have been there.
Anyways, the Lunar New Year is coming and this year it is extra special as Auntie Tiger Lil is coming. Auntie was a movie star back in the ’30s and 40s and has been hired to promote Lion Salve, and be in charge of its float in the Chinese New Year Parade.
Lily, (named after Tiger Lil and our main character) is excited, especially after she watches the Tiger Lil films and loves thenm. Her parents are also thrilled as they are in awe of Tiger Lil.
Less enthused is Lily’s brother Chris, who is a big drag. He hates the Chinese New Year Parade, hates Chinatown, he just hates everything. Chris feels like everything is derogatory, “tourist chinese culture”, but when our main character later tries to get involved in her roots, he makes fun of her even more. True he is her brother, and brothers and sisters can get into it, but it was just annoying to me. I feel like I have been plagued with people like that my life.
Anyways, Auntie Lil works hard on the parade; she hires actors, Linda Chin (a girl from Lily’s school) has her mom create the elaborate costumes, but then everything is threatened with cancellation. There is a gang of kids who have been robbing Chinatown, and many fear that the parade will be the next one.
However, Mrs. Wong-one of the owners of the Happy Fortune Company and real estate mogul, where Linda’s mom works, decide to continue. They even have these giant pearls, the Goblin Necklace, that their daughter will wear on the Lion Salve Float. Take that gang!
Linda brings in the amazing costumes, that her mother and friends made. Linda reveals that her mother was eager to work and so quick because the Happy Fortune Company is a sweatshop and the Wongs owe them back pay.
The day of the parade comes but not without problems as one of the actors hired has sprained her ankle. With such short notice, the only person who can fill in is Lil. She has to wear a cylinder, Lion Salve costume.
Lily unhappily joins in the parade, befriending fellow salve dancer, Norm. She also meets Mrs. Wong’s daughter Tiffany who is wearing the Goblin Pearls. Also on the float is the biggest Chinese actor of the time Clark Tom.
Although, he isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. He is pretty drunk and spills wine all over Tiffany’s dress and the pearls. Mrs. Wong gets upset with the dress being ruined-while they are trying to clean the stain out, a man comes and steals the pearls.
Auntie Tiger Lil gets angry and goes after the guy with Lil following in her Lion Salve costume, and what ensues is a hilarious chase scene that I cannot properly write-that ends with Lil rolling in her cylinder and a dance with her and Auntie Lil. It is so funny, I couldn’t stop laughing.
Unfortunately, they don’t stop the criminals-but they do steal the show and are on all the news cameras. Afterwards, the police come and they give their statements with Lil finding one of the pearls and presenting it to the police.
Mrs. Wong shrugs her off, saying it is a fake bauble from something else. Instead, Lil places it in her pocket and joins Auntie Lil for the after party banquet. They watch the parade footage, and instead of it being as nice as they thought, it does come off rather embarrassing for Lil. She decides to hightail it to the bathroom.
In the bathroom, Lil gets attacked by the guy from the gang earlier. He wants the pearl, she picked up-but Lil is confused as it a a fake, why would they want it? Lil actually manages to outsmart him, and trap him in the bathroom. She goes for the police, but when they return he is gone-having smashed the bars on the window.
It turns out that Norm, the actor Lil befriended in the parade is an Assistant District Attorney and starts putting the pieces together. The pearls in the parade were a fake as pearls would have been destroyed by the wine, yet Mrs. Wong didn’t care about them-she was more worried about Tiffany’s dress.
The Wongs must be behind the theft-faking the pearls being stolen for the insurance money-a plot that was ruined when they realized they missed a pearl and Lil had it. If she turned it over to the police, the jig would be up. They decide to go after the Wongs, but they have disappeared.
Lil is upset for Linda and the unfairness of everything and wants to looking in the factory to see where the Wongs could have run off to. Auntie Lil tells her to leave it alone, but Lil has seen so many of the Tiger Lil films, she decides to go after the Wongs like her namesake will. Will she get the proof and help her friend? Will it be a horrible mistake? Has Auntie Lil given up, or does she have a few tricks up her sleeve?
Thoughts After Reading:
My initial take away, is that I would love to watch those Tiger Lil movies. Now is the time Yep-go to any studio and I am sure they would jump on it. I would do it set in the 30s, historical fiction murder melodramas. It would be AWESOME!!
Second, Chris is an annoying jerk. Every culture, subculture, sub-sub culture has a Chris and I hate it. They are sooo annoying and you can’t win-you try and do things reflect your culture, whine whine. You don’t, whine whine. Annoying.
Besides that, this book was a ton of fun. I liked the characters, the storyline, and I look forward to checking out the rest of the series.
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