Chinatown Angel Review
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Six months ago, Puerto Rican private investigator Chico Santana’s wife, Ramona, got tired of his womanizing ways and threw him out. Since then, he’s been laying low, turning down jobs while he nurses his wounds. But the bills don’t pay themselves—so when an old friend’s boss, wannabe movie star Kirk Atlas (a.k.a. Marcos Rivera), asks him to track down his missing cousin, he reluctantly agrees.

From the start, Chico doesn’t trust spoiled rich kid Atlas. But when he questions another one of Atlas’s employees and she winds up falling from the roof of her building (most likely with a little bit of help), Chico begins to realize that there’s more to the case than just one missing girl.

The more Chico investigates—and the more he knows about Kirk’s family—the more tangled the case gets. And when neighborhood thugs and Kirk’s relatives alike start warning him off the case, he becomes even more determined to solve it.

Chinatown Angel is the first book in A. E. Roman’s Chico Santana series—but it feels more like the third or fourth. As Roman tells the story through his main character’s eyes, he frequently refers to people and events from Chico’s past—his friends and acquaintances, his failed marriage, his childhood, his career. But he mentions them in passing—without really explaining them—as though you’re already supposed to know what he’s talking about. As I read, I kept thinking that I was missing something—that everything must have been explained in a previous novel. And if that were the case, I’d be much more forgiving. After all, it would be my own fault for jumping into the middle of a series; I’d have every reason to be confused. But there’s no previous novel, which makes the lack of background information in Chinatown Angel both perplexing and frustrating.

In addition to the huge cast of characters from Chico’s past, Chinatown Angel also has its own big, tangled mass of characters—most of whom are members of one tangled, messed-up family. There are so many characters, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to keep them all apart—especially since very few of them are developed at all.

To Roman’s credit, Chico Santana makes an interesting new protagonist—and the story in Chinatown Angel is delightfully twisted. Unfortunately, though, the overabundance of under-developed characters turns an otherwise captivating story into a bewildering jumble. Readers will be so busy trying to differentiate them all—and figure out who’s connected to whom—that, as a result, they’ll find it difficult to care about the case. So although Chinatown Angel is an intriguing debut, it’s just not worth the confusion.

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