The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua is an historical mystery and thriller that perfectly combines the world’s events at the end of World War with the struggles and issues in the northern California community of Berkeley.  The plot centers around Homicide Detective Al Sullivan, who is enjoying an after dinner drink at the famed Claremont Hotel, when in an upstairs suite, a presidential candidate, Walter Wilkinson, has two assassination attempts on his life within an hour.  The second attempt proves fatal.  The candidate was despised by many and when Sullivan heads up the case, there are a number of suspects and theories that rise to the top of his list.

More than a decade earlier, another scandal at the Claremont Hotel was the talk of the town.  This scandal involved the death of a seven year old child from the renowned Bainbridge family, whose wealth and status were at the peak of San Francisco society.  While investigating the current case of Wilkinson, Detective Sullivan finds clues at the crime scene that harken back to the Bainbridge incident, linking the cases back to the surviving heiresses of the family.

After Wilkinson’s death, another murder occurs that has Sullivan perplexed as to how these events could be tied together and how they may impact the United States national security in the future.  The triangle of evidence grows even more complex when Sullivan discovers an extremely close relationship between Wilkinson and the first lady of China, who has taken up residence in the area just blocks away from the crime scene.  Red herrings abound with Sullivan confident that the case is solved and then being thrown a curveball that makes him question everything he has investigated.  After Sullivan gets a second break in the case all the pieces start to come together yet again or is this another false lead?

Chua takes multiple storylines and weaves an extraordinary plot together that addresses the uncertainties of the time, the difference in social classes and a series of crimes that shocked the community.  I cannot remember another book with such a unique plotline as The Golden Gate.  As in most historical fiction, it perfectly captures the history, struggles and realism of the era.  I particularly enjoyed the historical context and the internal struggles of Homicide Detective Al Sullivan, who tries to come to terms with his childhood while trying to navigate his future.  The Golden Gate also provides a fascinating glimpse at the United States immediately following World War II.  This is Chua’s first fiction novel and I am hopeful that The Golden Gate is the first of many by this author!


Servants by Lucy Lethbridge

servantsFrom the immense staff running a lavish Edwardian estate and the lonely maid-of-all-work cooking in a cramped middle-class house to the poor child doing chores in a slightly less poor household, servants were essential to the British way of life. They were hired not only for their skills but also to demonstrate the social standing of their employers even as they were required to tread softly and blend into the background. More than simply the laboring class serving the upper crust as popular culture would have us believe, they were a diverse group that shaped and witnessed major changes in the modern home, family, and social order.

Spanning over a hundred years, Lucy Lethbridge in this “best type of history” brings to life through letters and diaries the voices of countless men and women who have been largely ignored by the historical record. She also interviews former and current servants for their recollections of this waning profession. At the fore are the experiences of young girls who slept in damp corners of basements, kitchen maids who were required to stir eggs until the yolks were perfectly centered, and cleaners who had to scrub floors on their hands and knees despite the wide availability of vacuum cleaners. We also meet a lord who solved his inability to open a window by throwing a brick through it and Winston Churchill’s butler who did not think Churchill would know how to dress on his own.

A compassionate and discerning exploration of the complex relationship between the server, the served, and the world they lived in, Servants opens a window onto British society from the Edwardian period to the present. (description by publisher)