The Golden Gate

“Right— we’re the good Orientals now. But I still can’t buy a house outside Chinatown. That’s ‘all men are created equal’ for you.”—Amy Chua, The Golden Gate.

In 1944 Berkeley, California, presidential hopeful Walter Wilkinson is assassinated with his pants down in his room at the Claremont Hotel. Homicide Detective Al Sullivan launches an official investigation and early evidence points to the three granddaughters of wealthy socialite Genevieve Hopkins Bainbridge. He also discovers a link to the death of 7-year-old Iris Stafford who was murdered in the hotel in 1930. Some say she haunts the Claremont Hotel. Fast forward to present day, and the Claremont is rumored to be one of the most haunted hotels in California (especially room 422).

The Golden Gate is an old-fashioned detective novel from Yale law professor Amy Chua. She has written several other intelligent nonfiction books, and her transition to historical fiction is wonderful. The story alternates between Genevieve’s deposition and detective Sullivan’s first-person narration.

The author seeds the novel with fascinating nuggets of California history and real-life figures, including Margaret Chung, the first Chinese woman to become a physician in the United States.  Margaret “Mom” Chung was the first known American-born Chinese female physician. She treated numerous celebrities, Navy reserve pilots, and her houseguests included high ranking officers and US senators and congressmen. Julia Morgan was also a real person. She was an American architect and engineer and designed more than 700 buildings in California during her career. She is best known for her work on the Hearst castle.

I found it especially interesting that the author alluded to Madame Chiang Kai-Sheck, the First Lady of the Republic of China being a Christian, so I had to do some digging. On October 23, 1930, Chiang Kai-shek became a Christian, so it would make sense that his wife would also be a believer. Unfortunately, she was also highly corrupt. The author has done a great job of combining multiple narratives, history, and a detective novel The Golden Gate reminds me of an old police procedural set in 1940s San Francisco. I’ve read several books set in the San Francisco area, but this is among the best.

Although I enjoyed the book, I thought the story was disjointed, which knocked down my rating a bit. I shouldn’t be surprised, but cops often lie in books. That bothers me. It was also disturbing how racism and life in 1940s internment camps is characterized.

I appreciated the moral compass of the protagonist, but I am frustrated by how many books have gay relationships? The sexuality of a character is honestly not that important.

Got bogged down in the history at times. 4.5 stars.






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