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On the Line: A Bill Smith/Lydia Chin Novel by S. J. Rozan
Cover Artist: Photo: Frans Lemmens / Getty Images
Review by Cathy Green
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312544492
Date: 28 September 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Rozan's latest Bill Smith/Lydia Chin mystery focuses on Bill Smith. Lydia Chin plays a relatively small role due to having been kidnapped by someone from Bill Smith's past bent on revenge. Smith receives a phone call informing him that Lydia has been kidnapped and he'll have to play a 24 hour game to get her back. Smith enlists the help of Lydia's cousin Linus Wong and his girlfriend/business partner Trella and together they solve the clues that lead them to a defunct night club in Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood. Breaking into the club, Smith discovers the body of a Chinese woman. Fortunately, it is not Lydia, but no sooner has Smith turned the body over to see the face than the police show up and Smith is forced to flee the scene, now the number one suspect in the murder of a Chinese prostitute and an assault on a police officer.

After evading the police, Smith is grabbed by the dead prostitute's pimp and his enforcers before he can meet back up with Linus and Trella. Unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the Chinese mobster that he was set up, Smith is rescued by Lydia's friend and Linuss's aunt Detective Mary Kee. Detective Kee naturally wants Smith to turn himself in, but when she's present for the next phone call from the crazy kidnapper, she's willing to help, but only as far as she can without getting fired and arrested herself. Things escalate quickly with Smith trying to figure out where Lydia is, who the kidnapper is, and solving the clues in a race against time to rescue both the Chinese prostitutes the kidnapper is using as Lydia substitutes and Lydia herself while avoiding capture by the police or Chinese mobsters.

While Lydia is not a major player in On The Line, she does contribute to her own rescue by dropping hints about her location to Bill Smith every time he asks for a “proof of life” conversation when the kidnapper calls. And while Linus and Trella and their dog provide a bit of comic relief in what would otherwise be a pretty grim story, they are also necessary to Smith's being able to find Lydia because being wanted by the police and unable to show his face, Smith spends much of his time hiding in their apartments and cars while they do the legwork, especially in Chinatown where Smith stands out like a sore thumb but Lydia's cousin doesn't. Also, Linus and Trella run an internet security firm and are very tech savvy, and Smith is a Luddite with a cell phone and he needs their expertise. For instance, towards the end of the book, when time is running out and things are getting desperate, Louis and Trella, using twitter, make use of a “human flesh search engine” to locate and track the kidnapper, something that would never have occurred to Bill Smith. Similarly, Detective Kee is necessary to Smith's success because of her access to police resources and her ability to smooth things over with the NYPD at the novel's climax.

Normally, I am not a fan of the psycho bent on elaborate revenge plot, which I find asks me to suspend more disbelief than I am capable of doing. In this case, while my suspension of disbelief had to be stretched a bit, it did not snap and break. Rozan establishes that the psycho kidnapper is wealthy, smart, and arrogant and had a lot of time to plan his revenge. Even the kidnapper's tech savvy despite having been incarcerated for around a decade can be explained by time between his release from prison and the execution of his scheme combined with the aforementioned intelligence. Also, because of the 24 hour time frame, the plot really zips along, which means that there isn't much time to stop and think about plausibility.

On The Line is a fast-paced thriller that fans of the Smith/Chin detective novels will enjoy.

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