Tom and Enid Schantz are the heroic couple who formed Rue Morgue Press and brought Juanita Sheridan’s books (and Lily Wu) back to life. According to the back jacket copy of the reissued paperback version of THE CHINESE CHOP, Sheridan’s Lily Wu books (published between 1949-1953) are the first series to feature a Chinese-American female sleuth.
The jacket copy describes Lily Wu as “a self-assured 25-year-old who can assume whatever demeanor best suits her purposes. Critic Anthony Boucher (for whom Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, is named) proclaimed her as one of the best female sleuths of the era — and the only he was devotedly in love with, citing his respect for her professional skills and delight in her personal charms.”
Imagine a New York Times book reviewer falling in love with a fictional Chinese woman — it doesn’t happen every day. But Lily Wu is not your average subservient Flower Drum gal. She’s an equal match for even a hardened NY Times reviewer. What’s even more remarkable is that she actually exists.
The Schantz’s colorful biography on the life of Juanita Sheridan reveals that Sheridan based Lily Wu on a few of her real life Chinese friends. Sheridan herself lived in Hawaii for 6 years between 1935-1941, and 3 of the 4 books are set in Hawaii.
Could the real Lily Wu have been hanging out with my Chinese grandmother in Hawaii in the 1930’s? Such a possiblity made me start looking at my grandmother in a whole new way. It made me start looking at the history of Hawai`i in a whole new way .
Murders! Scandals! Romantic Intrigue! Corruption! — suddenly 1930s Hawai`i became a lot more interesting to me. How much of it was truth and how much was fiction? That was what I set out to discover.