Los Angeles, 1908: In Chinatown, the most dangerous beat in Los Angeles, police matron Anna Blanc and her former boyfriend, Detective Joe Singer, discover the body of a white missionary woman, stuffed in a trunk in the apartment of her Chinese lover, who has fled. If news gets out that a white woman was murdered in Chinatown, there will be a violent backlash against the Chinese, so Joe and Anna plan to solve the crime quietly and keep the death a secret. Meanwhile, the Hop Sing tong has kidnapped two slave girls from the Bing Kong tong, fueling existing tensions, threatening a bloody tong war that would put all Chinatown residents in danger. Joe orders Anna out of Chinatown to keep her safe, but to atone for her own family’s sins, Anna must stay to solve the crime before news of the murder is leaked and Chinatown explodes.
Author Jennifer Kincheloe spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest novel, THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
A vicarious adventure. I hope readers will experience 1908 Chinatown, solve crimes, battle tongs, fall in love, save the day, and prove everyone wrong.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
My protagonist is unconventional. She’s brave and smart, but she’s not a superhero. She’s desperately flawed and very much a product of her sexist, classist society. In the truest sense, she’s a strong female character because she succeeds through sheer force of will despite her weaknesses.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
I learned that almost a quarter of babies were conceived out of wedlock during the 1900s. (Not a quarter of women, mind you, a quarter of babies!) That’s a lot of messing around. I love discovering how human our ancestors were.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy or the PR material?
I spent at least as much time researching it as I did writing it. I scoured old newspapers. I read autobiographies, eye-witness accounts, and a stack of old books on LA’s Chinatown. I went to museums, read Chinese poetry, researched traditional Chinese religion and culture, US immigration laws, and Chinese immigration patterns. I collected period photographs and maps. I know a ridiculous amount about Chinese immigrants in the 1900s.
What authors or books have influenced your career as a writer, and why?
I read widely—everything from Kazuo Ishiguro to Chuck Palahniuk. But I’d have to say that Elizabeth Peters influenced me the most with her hilarious mysteries set in Egypt around the turn of the 20th century. If you haven’t read her books, go buy them immediately.
Jennifer Kincheloe is the author of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc and THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK. The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is the winner of the Colorado Gold Award for mystery and the Mystery and Mayhem Award for historical mystery. The novel was also a finalist for the Macavity Sue Feder Historical Mystery award, Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Award, and Colorado Authors’ League Award for genre fiction. Formerly, Dr. Kincheloe was the principal of a health consulting firm and a member of the research faculty for the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. She currently does research on the jails in Denver, Colorado.
To learn more about Jennifer, please visit her website.