Just after the turn of the twentieth century, not long after the San Francisco earthquake, the Chinese community near Monterey Bay burned to the ground. Miraculously no one was killed in the fire, which was rumored to have been set by an arson. These facts form the basis for In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck (yes, one of those Steinbecks).
The novel begins with the 1906 journals of Charles Gilbert, a research biologist at Hopkins Marine Station not far from Monterey. Gilbert records meeting and hiring Red Billy O'Flynn, an Irishman of uncertain background and reputation and how the two became involved in a discovery that could change the way we understand history. When the major Chinese Tong families take an interest in the artifacts, O'Flynn disappears and Gilbert is shut out of the circle of information.
About a hundred years later, Charles Lucas, a graduate student, comes across some of Gilbert's papers at the marine institute. And it is only through his research and contacts that we finally learn the truth behind O'Flynn's discoveries and the inner workings of the old Tong network.
In the Shadow of the Cypress is told in three parts, each in a different style and from a different perspective. The story is intriguing enough to carry you through these changes and is so nicely based in fact that you sometimes forget you're reading a novel. The characters and descriptive scenes will stick with you and the mystery surrounding the artifacts holds your attention, but the ending of the novel could have been a bit stronger.
I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Brilliance Audio) read by Jeff Harding. Harding did a great job switching between view points, accents, and time periods, and his reading added greatly to my enjoyment of the novel. Look for the full audio review on AudioFile magazine's website.
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Published by Simon & Schuster / Gallery Books, 2010
Challenges: Historical Fiction, 100+
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: BCopyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)