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Tears of the Dragon    by Holly Baxter order for
Tears of the Dragon
by Holly Baxter
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Paula Gosling (writing as Holly Baxter) introduces Elodie Browne and her family in early 1930s (Depression era) Chicago in Tears of the Dragon. It's a new cozy series with a strong flavor of Little Women, with Prohibition gangsters in the mix, and radio a fascinating novelty.

Elodie works as a junior copywriter in the Gower Building, 'the latest addition to Chicago's lakeshore skyline.' She lives with her widowed schoolteacher mother and three sisters - Marie, Maybelle, and Alyce (who's still in school) - and meets her flamboyant friend, Bernice Barker, every day for lunch (Bernice works on the tenth floor of the building for a wealthy Chinese importer of jade and oriental art, Lee Chang). As the story opens, Elodie has witnessed a kidnapping in the building one evening after dropping off a program idea for her agency's biggest client, Leatherlux Luggage. The next day she finds out that a small-time importer has disappeared, but is afraid to get involved. Then, Bernice inveigles her into a waitressing gig at a party given by Mr. Lee, and the two young women witness a shooting.

Enter debonair, six foot, red-headed police Lieutenant Archie Deacon, a potential romantic interest for Elodie, and an honest cop at a time when police corruption was rife. He takes on an investigation which evolves into something much bigger, including a series of beheadings, poisoning and kidnapping. In parallel, Elodie's proposal for Leatherlux has been approved, and she's assigned to work with professional radio writers - hard-drinking Drew Wilson and obsessive Sal Schultz - to prepare a new show, 'Imperial Hotel' (draft scripts are interspersed through the story, adding to the interest). Curiosity leads Elodie to follow a linguistic trail into trouble, her protective journalist cousin, Hugh Murphy, hovering in the background.

Weaved into this absorbing story are: civil war between the Communists and the Nationalist government in China, bootleggers, racial tension, the beginnings of Mafia involvement in the heroin trade, the production of early radio shows, corruption in the police department, and life in general in 1931 Chicago. Paula Gosling has been on my must read list for decades, for thrillers such as A Running Duck, The Woman in Red and The Zero Trap. This new historical cozy series is a welcome addition to her previous excellent body of work, and I look forward to more of Elodie Browne, a delightful heroine.

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