SJ Rozan has never been the type of writer who turns away from a challenge. Along with her excellent Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries and a plethora of short stories—both of which have won her countless awards, nominations, and accolades—Rozan has written non-fiction about private eyes, a paranormal duology featuring vampires with Carlos Dews (Blood of the Lamb), and even chapters in multi-author progression-style works of fiction. Now, with The Murder of Mr. Ma, SJ Rozan and John Shen Yen Nee have written a hybrid novel that is so unique and special that readers will feel the need to hold it close to protect if from genre bullies and so-called “purists” who will rebel against it’s originality.

Many of the hallmarks for which SJ Rozan is known factor into The Murder of Mr. Ma. Of course, first and foremost is her love and respect for Chinese culture and tradition. But readers will also find her nuanced character development and avoidance of stereotypes on full display. With a SJ Rozan novel, readers can also count on the setting being authentically on display, less as backdrop and more as another character used to enhance the storyline. (Remember how she brought post-9/11 New York City to life in her now-classic Absent Friends?) In the case of The Murder of Mr. Ma, Rozan and Shen Yen Nee transport readers to London, circa 1924—leaving little doubt about the level of research they embarked on to bring this world both vibrancy and relevancy.

So, what is it about The Murder of Mr. Ma that makes it so unique? It is the way these two authors seamlessly blend genres and different styles of writing into a cohesive whole. There is a traditional fair play mystery at the core of the novel—a series of murders that seem connected. But these authors structure the novel to emulate the gong’an sub-genre—a fictional work where government magistrates—i.e., a Judge—step in to serve as the lead investigator during a criminal inquiry. In the case of The Murder of Mr. Ma, Judge Dee Ren Jie takes that lead role, and it isn’t very long before he acquire a sidekick, the shy academic Lao She. The way these two are presented will immediately remind readers of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. From the investigative style and the way the narrator addresses the reader, this very much feels like an homage, without losing any of the authenticity needed to ground this story. (Of particular note to some readers will be the verisimilitude on display with the way Opium usage is handled in the novel.)

There are several other seemingly conflicting styles on display in The Murder of Mr. Ma. There’s an almost cozy mystery-level of reverence for the food throughout the novel. Fans of that sub-genre will be forgiven for expecting to find recipes at the end of the novel. Alas, you will just be left with a craving to fill your stomach with some tasty delights. Juxtaposed with that are some incredibly orchestrated fight scenes that are so realistic they at times make the reader feel as though they are watching an action movie rather than reading a historical mystery. The fact that SJ Rozan and John Shen Yen Nee mange to pull this off and make it feel organic to the story rests on two things: Their skill as writers and a core storyline concept that was meticulously planned and researched.

The lack of plot summary here is intentional. From the moment that Lao She finds acceptance in Judge Dee by agreeing to the ultimate sacrifice right up until the final revelations at the end of the novel, readers are best served by discovering that journey on their own. Suffice to say that at a time when strained relations between different cultures are once again the topic du jour, Rozan and Shen Yen Nee will educate readers as they entertain them. The Murder of Mr. Ma is being billed as the first in a new series, so fans—and you will be a fan—can look forward to the next adventure that blends logical investigation with kick-ass action in a way that crime fiction readers rarely encounter.

BUY LINKS: The Murder of Mr. Ma by SJ Rozan and Johen Shen Yen Nee

Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.