Child of My Winter is the fourth book in the Rick Van Lam series and yes, that “V” is capitalized. His heritage is Vietnamese, not Dutch. Rick is a former NYPD cop who has moved to Connecticut where he works as a private investigator doing mostly insurance cases and a part-time instructor at Farmington College teaching Criminal Procedure. He was born in Vietnam, his father an unknown American soldier, his mother a Vietnamese woman who left him at a Catholic orphanage where he was despised for his biracial heritage. Even after coming to America, serving as a police officer and now as a college professor, he is still suspect within much of the Vietnamese refugee community.
He notices a student, Anh Ky (Dustin) Trang whose isolation from others draws his attention and concern. When he witnesses an angry confrontation between him and a favored professor, he is even more worried. When that professor is murdered and Dustin is the prime suspect, he begins to investigate, urged on my his friend Hank, a local cop who is also Vietnamese, his ex-wife, his landlady and a coterie of friends whose advice and wisdom seem as much part of his investigative process than actual investigation.
I liked the character of Rick Van Lam and his friends. I liked their camaraderie, their sociability as they sat around and discussed Dustin’s problems. I like the insight into a Vietnamese and the remaining traumas of the Vietnam War. I think the people in this story are fairly well-developed with the exception of the “bad guys” who are pretty toxically one-dimensional, from Dustin’s entire family including his hero uncle to the prosperity gospel grifter with megachurch aspirations, the bigoted college professor who inflicts childhood grudges on his student, and the arrogant BMOC.
I will confess it is a strange sort of detective story, though, since they did so very little detecting, very little investigating. They did a lot of eating, even more gossiping and meeting up with friends to talk it over amongst themselves. Rick and Hank did manage to go around and meet all the parties, but in terms of solving the crime, their greatest asset was the patience to wait for it to solve itself. While the mystery is central to the story, they seem to be ancillary to its solution. This didn’t make it a boring story.They are good conversationalists.
There’s a thing that happens in series where all the likable characters from previous books have to show up for a chat. I haven’t even read the other books, yet I felt that sense that we were having conversations for the benefit of readers who want to check in on former favorites. Still, I want to read more books by Andrew Lanh with Rick Van Lam, starting with the first where everybody is new.
I was discomfited to discover that Andrew Lanh, the author, is Ed Ifkovic, author of another popular series. His bio indicates he has spent many years working and teaching literature from around the world and he should be comfortable writing the series under his own name. Writing with a Vietnamese surname, though, feels wrong to me. It’s suggesting he is writing from inside rather than outside the culture. That brings us into the area of appropriation, but we don’t need to go there for reasons to avoid doing that. It’s misleading the readers as well, suggesting he is writing from his own experience rather than from experiences people shared with him or he read about.
Child of My Winter will be released July 4th. I received and advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.