The Woman in the Cam­phor Trunk

Jen­nifer Kinch­e­loe Sev­enth Street Books (NOVEM­BER) Soft­cover $14.95 (304pp) 978-1-63388-363-5

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - MEG NOLA

Hero­ine Anna Blanc is a spir­ited woman who re­fuses to be a damsel in dis­tress—un­less it helps her to solve a case.

Jen­nifer Kinch­e­loe’s in­trepidly stylish Anna Blanc re­turns in her lat­est ad­ven­ture, The Woman in the Cam­phor Trunk. Anna, a young so­ci­ety woman who has opted for po­lice work in­stead of a shel­tered life of priv­i­lege, finds her­self in­ves­ti­gat­ing a mur­der in 1908 Los An­ge­les’s Chi­na­town, on “the edge of the white world where East met West.”

Sleuthing hero­ine Anna is smart, re­source­ful, and wily, while also be­ing some­what emo­tional and im­pul­sive. Her of­fi­cial job as an as­sis­tant ma­tron for the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment is gen­er­ally lim­ited to tend­ing to lost chil­dren or way­ward girls, be­ing def­er­en­tial to the male de­tec­tives, and in­ter­view­ing fe­male crime vic­tims or wit­nesses. These re­stric­tions chafe at Anna like the un­fash­ion­ably dys­func­tional po­lice-ma­tron uni­forms. She jumps at any chance to prove her in­ves­tiga­tive abil­i­ties.

The novel vividly por­trays turn-of-the-cen­tury Chi­na­town, con­trast­ing Tong War tur­moil within the neigh­bor­hood con­fines with the racism and in­tol­er­ance of the city be­yond. Be­cause a white woman has been found dead in her Chi­nese lover’s apart­ment, the threat of anti-asian back­lash looms. Mur­der is bad enough, but mis­ce­gena­tion is con­sid­ered by many An­ge­lenos to be an even worse crime.

Anna, with her flaws, hunches, and wary brav­ery, car­ries the story, mak­ing her way through Chi­na­town’s cul­tural maze—a place that her wealthy, con­trol­ling fa­ther never even al­lowed her to visit. Anna’s in­de­pen­dence has not come eas­ily; she now lives marginally on a diet of Cracker Jacks and tinned kip­pers, pawn­ing her for­mer fin­ery to get by. Her tem­pes­tu­ous re­la­tion­ship with fel­low of­fi­cer Joe Singer is also a sig­nif­i­cant part of the plot, adding a di­men­sion of quirky ro­mance to the un­der­ly­ing mys­tery.

Anna’s de­sire for equal treat­ment on the po­lice force and to not be dom­i­nated by men is his­tor­i­cally ab­so­lute. A vi­brant, sprawl­ing ad­ven­ture, The Woman in The Cam­phor Trunk of­fers a por­trait of a spir­ited woman who re­fuses to be a damsel in dis­tress—un­less it helps her to solve a case.

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