Homem— New York, NY. Agentm— Axelrod Agency, 49 Main St., P.O. Box 357, Chatham, NY 12037. E-mailm— [email protected]
Author and architect. Stein, White, Nelligan Architects, New York, NY, practicing architect until 2004. Full-time writer, 2004m—. Has worked as a janitor, self defense instructor, photographer, and jewelry salesperson.
International Association of Crime Writers, Mystery Writers of America (former national board member), Private Eye Writers of America, Sisters in Crime (national board member).
Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Novel, Private Eye Writers of America, 1996, for Concourse; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for Best Short Story, Mystery Writers of America, 1997, for "Hoops"; Anthony Award nomination, and Shamus Award nomination, both 1998, both for No Colder Place; Edgar Allan Poe Award, nomination for best novel, for Reflecting the Sky, and for best short story, for "Double-Crossing Delancy," both 2002; Shamus Award for Best Hardcover P.I. Novel, 2002, for Reflecting the Sky; Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel, and Anthony Award nomination for best novel, both 2003, both for Winter and Night; Gumshoe Award nomination, 2005, for Absent Friends.
"LYDIA CHIN/BILL SMITH" SERIES
China Trade, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Concourse, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Mandarin Plaid, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
No Colder Place, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
A Bitter Feast, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Stone Quarry, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 1999.
Reflecting the Sky, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2001.
Winter and Night, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2002.
The Grift of the Magi: A Christmas Story, Mysterious Bookshop (New York, NY), 2000.
Absent Friends (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short fiction, including "Double-Crossing Delancy," to numerous anthologies and magazines, including P.I., Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and Publishers Weekly.
Rozan's works have been translated into Japanese, Dutch, Italian, and Bulgarian.
Work in Progress
A new "Lydia Chin/Bill Smith" mystery.
S. J. Rozan is only the second woman to win a Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America; she has also captured an Edgar Allen Poe Award from Mystery Writers of American, as well as many of the other top crime-writing awards, for her series about the New York-based private eye team of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. Booklist reviewer Stuart Miller called the "Chin/Smith" team "one of the very best private-eye duos in the genre," and dubbed the entire series "highly readable and most entertaining." Simon Kernick, writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, noted that Rozan's series "is renowned for its consistently solid plots and insightful character studies."
Begun in 1994, with alternating books told from the point of view of Chin or Smith, the series has grown steadily at a book a year, gathering a strong fan base and critical acclaim. By 2004 the popularity of the series had allowed Rozan to quit her day job as an architect and concentrate full time on writing. It also afforded her the luxury of writing a non-series title, Absent Friends, which uses the events of September 11, 2001, as a backdrop. Rozan explained this move from series into mainstream fiction on her Internet home page: "After 9/11, moving right into the next Lydia Chin book, set in downtown New York, was impossible for me. I needed Smith and Chin to get some time and distance from 9/11; I needed to see what New York would become before I wrote about their New York again."
New York City in the Blood
Rozan, one of four children, was born and raised in the Bronx. As a child she loved to read and dreamed of becoming an author herself one day. She also knew she would write crime novels as an adult. According to Sybil Steinberg, writing in Publishers Weekly, Rozan "was fascinated by the classic voice of the tarnished hero, a distant observer who becomes involved in other people's lives." However, there was a practical streak in Rozan that told her she needed to have a profession that paid a steady income before she could set up as a writer. Though she subsequently eschewed that theory, Rozan attended Oberlin College for her undergraduate degree and then went on to the State University of New York at Buffalo for a master 's degree in architecture. Working for over a decade for the New York firm of Stein, White, Nelligan Architects, she focused on designs for public projects, such as zoos, firehouses, and police stations.
According to Steinberg, the budding author saw herself as a "construction guy" during her years as a professional architect, going out to building sites with blueprints, donning a hard hat, and clambering around on scaffolding. She enjoyed the work, but realized something was missing in her life. Taking a fiction-writing course, she was discouraged by early attempts at writing novels, so she turned to the short-story form. When her first story was sold to P.I. Magazine, Rozan thought she was on her way. Then came three unpublished novels, but her agent stuck with her, believing in the work. Finally, in 1994, the first title of her "Chin/Smith" series saw publication.
A Series with Two Voices
Rozan's novel China Trade was published in 1994. The story introduces private investigator Lydia Chin, a single woman who lives in New York City and occasionally works with partner Bill Smith, who is also her sometime romantic interest. The reader meets Lydia's family: a mother who harps on the subject of her daughter finding a Chinese husband, and a brother, Tim, who involves Linda in a robbery case concerning a collection of rare porcelains. Chin finds herself sorting between a host of leads and a sea of suspects. She confronts neighborhood gangs, discovers that the missing porcelains have actually been stolen several times, and links two murders to the missing objects.
Several reviewers found Rozan's characters and settings in China Trade appealing. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "Rozan's fast-moving novel presents her Asian-American cast and their world with a delicacy that goes far beyond local color." A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Rozan's skill at "characterizing Chinatown's denizens, apothecaries, shops, and food," but felt the result is "more flavor than substance." However, JoAnn Vacarel, writing in Library Journal, wrote that "Chin has a refreshing vulnerability."
In Concourse Rozan returns to the scene set in China Trade, but she gives Bill Smith the role of narrator. He and Chin are involved in a murder investigation at the Bronx Home for the Aged. A critic in Publishers Weekly stated that "her major characters . . . and the minor cast . . . leave a lasting impression," and the author "brings a distinctive, commanding voice to the genre." Washington Post Book World reviewer Paul Skenazy commented that the second novel "is better: firmer in its details, tighter in its construction, complex in its links of politics and violence. What's best here is the city life." Skenazy also noted that the novel does not suffer from the alternating viewpoints of Chin and Smith. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Concourse "richly and rewardingly plotted."
When Concourse won a coveted Shamus award, Rozan was instantly elevated into the premier leagues of mystery and crime writers, much to her own surprise. She related to Steinberg that she would get up in the middle of the night to make sure the award was still there on her shelf, that she had not just been dreaming she won it.
The Chin-Smith team is hired to recover a fashion designer's stolen sketches for a critical first collection in Mandarin Plaid. Armchair Detective reviewer Paul A. Bergen wrote that while the novel is hampered by abandoned plot elements, Rozan's second novel shows "promise and accomplishment in equal proportion." Bergen went on to call Rozan "a true comer in a crowded field." A Publishers Weekly reviewer agreed that the plot is "made murky by too many red herrings" but commended Rozan for her "memorable characters."
No Colder Place is set in territory familiar to the author/architect, and takes Chin and Smith into events surrounding the construction of a Manhattan apartment building. The investigators go under-cover as, respectively, a secretary and mason in their attempt to discover who is behind several thefts and murders at the construction site. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised No Colder Place as "the sharpest, clearest, most purposefully focused of her four Smith/Chin mysteries." Booklist reviewer Stuart Miller considered the book to be evidence that Rozan is "a major figure in contemporary mystery fiction."
Rozan continued her "Lydia Chin/Bill Smith" series with A Bitter Feast and Stone Quarry. In a Booklist review of A Bitter Feast, GraceAnne A. DeCandido lauded Rozan's "gift for taut action overlaid with understated sensuous detail," and called the author's ability to shift narrative points of view from Chin to Smith in different books an "extraordi-nary accomplishment."
Echoing DeCandido's opinion, several other reviewers have also praised Rozan's ability to write in both the more noir voice of the disillusioned Smith and in the lighter voice of Chin. Stuart Miller, in a Booklist review of Stone Quarry, noted that crime fiction fans of all types will enjoy the series and recommended the title "highly to any mystery readers who aren't yet hooked."
In Series and out of Series
Rozan's novel Reflecting the Sky continues the series. In the novel, Chin and Smith are sent to Hong Kong to deliver the ashes of a family friend, together with a prized jade amulet, to surviving relatives and soon find themselves immersed in a kidnapping and at odds with the Chinese Triad underworld. Reflecting the Sky attracted praise from critics. A Publishers Weekly critic argued that it is no mistake that Rozan has received awards for the series, calling this seventh installment a "beautifully written book with a sophisticated plot, rich in both action and atmosphere." Stuart Miller in Booklist also lauded the work, calling it "definitely a don't-miss book in a don't-miss series."
Smith and Chin once again leave New York for their eighth installment, Winter and Night, a "compelling mystery about the roots of teen violence," according to Library Journal reviewer Wilda Williams. In this novel, told from Smith's point of view, the detective is awakened in the middle of the night by a call from the New York police informing him that his teenage nephew, Gary, is in custody for rolling drunks. The son of his long-lost sister, Gary proceeds to disappear from the investigator's apartment just as he apparently earlier ran away from home. Teaming up with Chin, Smith tracks his nephew to Smith's former home in the small town of Warrentown, New Jersey. As the P.I.s quickly realize, Warrentown is not the suburban paradise it outwardly seems; the school football team is the center of community activity, and its players can get away with anything they please, so long as they win games. Gary had been a member of this team and, digging deeper, Chin and Smith uncover murderous secrets from the past and present. Gary is not the only person missing now; a teenage girl dies under mysterious circumstances and an outsider at the local high school also winds up missing. Two young computer nerds at the school help Smith and Chin in their investigations as they attempt to get to the bottom of these and other crimes in Warrentown.
Miller, writing in Booklist, found Winter and Night to be a "truly tangled tale," but one that offers "strong characters, deft plotting, and a hard-driving narrative." A contributor for Publishers Weekly was less laudatory, finding Rozan's novel "disturbing, suspenseful, but often shrill and repetitive." However, Oline H. Cogdill, writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, was more impressed with the mystery novel, noting that the book addresses the issue of teen violence in a "riveting" manner. "Wrapped around a well-plotted private eye mystery, the novel delves into the town's mindset that makes one set of students royalty, saps the self-esteem of others and makes revenge the goal of still others." For Cog-dill, the novel presented a "sophisticated story that will stay with you long after the book has ended."
Explaining her intentions with Winter and Night on her home page, Rozan noted, "It's hard to be a teenager these days, much harder than when I was one. These kids [in Warrentown] are only trying to do what they've been told is good, what they've been shown they'll get approval, even admiration, for, from adults. Unfortunately, the adults are so morally bankruptm—and in many cases so un-adultm—that what the kids are offered as a path to success is completely destructive to them and those around them."
Absent Friends is a departure from Rozan's mystery series. Rozan's first stand-alone novel, the book was described as a "haunting tribute" to 9/11, by Steinberg. To deal with the events of 9/11, Rozan felt she needed to write outside of her usual series in order to avoid trivializing such a tragedy. The result is "Mystic River meets The 9/11 Commission," explained Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly. The novel tells the story of a fireman hero of 9/11 who died in the World Trade Center tragedy. However, following the heroic death of Jimmy McCaffery, in honor of whom a charitable foundation has been established, a reporter prints a story suggesting that the fallen hero may have had feet of clay, and is implicated in a shooting death over two decades earlier with potential mob connections. Before the reporter can dig deeper, he apparently commits suicide. However, his colleague does not believe in the suicide theory and she goes on to probe in the past, uncovering the stories of four young boys and three girls growing up on Staten Island. The novel employs extensive use of flashback and multiple points of view to present a "rich, sophisticated view of New Yorkers whose lives, like so many others, were so vastly changed on that September morning," as Kernick noted.
A critic for Kirkus Reviews called Rozan's first standalone "ambitious," but went on to note that the many story threads and connections, once put together, are "unsurprising and anticlimactic, especially after the long buildup." However, the same reviewer also thought that Rozan presents a "group portrait that's both grandly scaled and painfully intimate." For a Publishers Weekly contributor, Absent Friends is a "rich, beautifully written book" by a"wonderful and insightful writer." This reviewer also felt, though, that Rozan's use of multiple points of view as well as extensive flashbacks make "the story more convoluted that it deserves to be."
Other reviewers had more unqualified praise for the work. Steinberg felt that Absent Friends "showcases Rozan's admirable literary style: her supple command of plot; fast-paced, witty dialogue; and concern for social and moral issues." Cathy Burke, writing in People, found the novel to be a "riveting chronicle of horror and healing," while Michelle Foyt of Library Journal called Absent Friends a"haunting examination of the nature of friendship, truth, and heroism." Booklist contributor Allison Block also commended this "mesmerizing mystery," calling Rozen's novel an "unforgettable elegy to a clear September morning that forever changed our lives."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Armchair Detective, fall, 1996, Paul A. Bergen, review of Mandarin Plaid, pp. 497-498.
If you enjoy the works of S. J. Rozan
If you enjoy the works of S. J. Rozan, you may also want to check out the following:
Janet Evanovich, One for the Money, 1995.
Lisa See, Flower Net, 1997.
Sujata Massey, The Samurai's Daughter, 2003.
Booklist, October 1, 1994, Stuart Miller, review of China Trade, p. 244; September 15, 1996, Stuart Miller, review of Mandarin Plaid, p. 225; September 1, 1997, Stuart Miller, review of No Colder Place, p. 67; August, 1998, Stuart Miller, review of A Bitter Feast, p. 1976; September 1, 1999, Stuart Miller, review of Stone Quarry, p. 73; May 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of China Trade, Concourse, A Bitter Feast, No Colder Place, and Mandarin Plaid, p. 1598; December 15, 2000, Stuart Miller, review of The Reflecting Sky, p. 791; January 1, 2002, Stuart Miller, review of Winter and Night, p. 820; September 1, 2004, Allison Block, review of Absent Friends, p. 7.
Entertainment Weekly, March 25, 2005, Jennifer Reese, review of Absent Friends, p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1994, review of China Trade, p. 1092; September 1, 1995, review of Concourse, p. 1228; August 1, 1996, review of Mandarin Plaid, p. 1104; August 1, 1997, review of No Colder Place, pp. 1162-1163; December 1, 2000, review of Reflecting the Sky, p. 1648; December 15, 2001, review of Winter and Night, p. 1726; September 1, 2004, review of Absent Friends, p. 832.
Library Journal, April 1, 1995, JoAnn Vacarel, review of China Trade, p. 152; October 1, 1999, Rex E. Klett, review of Stone Quarry, p. 138; February 1, 2001, Cliff Glaviano, review of Stone Quarry, p. 144; February 15, 2002, Wilda Williams, review of Winter and Night, p. 182; June 1, 2004, Barbara Hoffert, review of Absent Friends, p. 102; September 15, 2004, Michelle Foyt, review of Absent Friends, p. 50.
New York Times Book Review, October 15, 1997, review of No Colder Place, p. 30; November 7, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, review of Stone Quarry, p. 37.
People, October 18, 2004, Cathy Burke, review of Absent Friends, p. 49.
Publishers Weekly, September 26, 1994, review of China Trade, p. 56; September 4, 1995, review of Concourse, p. 53; July 29, 1996, review of Mandarin Plaid, p. 74; July 28, 1997, review of No Colder Place, p. 57; June 29, 1998, review of A Bitter Feast, p. 38; August 2, 1999, review of Stone Quarry, p. 76; January 15, 2001, review of Reflecting the Sky, p. 55; January 7, 2002, review of Winter and Night, p. 50; September 6, 2004, review of Absent Friends, p. 45; November 1, 2004, Sybil Steinberg, "Scoping 9/11 Morality: S. J. Rozan," p. 38.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 1, 2002, Oline H. Cogdill, review of Winter and Night; October 20,2004, Simon Kernick, review of Absent Friends.
Washington Post Book World, November 19, 1995, Paul Skenazy, review of Concourse, p. 6.
S. J. Rozan Blog,http://www.journalscape.com/sjrozan/ (July 24, 2005).
S. J. Rozan Home Page,http://www.sjrozan.com/ (May 15, 2005).