September 18, 2023

The Golden Gate

By Amy Chua
Review by
Readers will be entertained and enriched by Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua’s debut historical mystery, The Golden Gate.
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You’ve got to hand it to Amy Chua. The Yale law school professor made a name for herself with her much-discussed 2011 parenting book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and now she’s written The Golden Gate, a jampacked historical mystery set in San Francisco in 1944. Detective Al Sullivan happens to be at the Claremont Hotel on the night that someone tries to kill wealthy presidential candidate Walter Wilkinson not once, but twice. The second time, the attempt is successful, and the high-profile murder leads Sullivan down a rabbit hole of an investigation that gives Chua ample opportunities to explore midcentury San Francisco, especially the many social and economic injustices of the era. 

Suspicion for Wilkinson’s murder largely falls on the three granddaughters of wealthy socialite Genevieve Bainbridge, shifting from one to the other and back again. One of them, Isabella, was part of another Claremont Hotel tragedy in 1930. When she was 6, her older sister, Iris, was found dead in the laundry chute after a game of hide-and-seek, and as Sullivan delves into the case, he suspects there may be links between that tragedy and Wilkinson’s murder. This aspect of the case as well as the Bainbridge characters are intriguing, although Chua’s repeated returns to Genevieve’s deposition regarding Wilkinson’s murder slow down the novel’s momentum.

Narrator Sullivan is a likable guide as well as a savvy investigator whose background gives him a unique perspective on the intersections of race, class and power that the case brings to light. His given name is Alejo Gutiérrez—he’s half Mexican, half Jewish American—and years ago, his father was forcefully “repatriated” to Mexico. He’s also caring for his 11-year-old niece Miriam, whose mother seems to have disappeared, and their relationship provides a snappy side plot.

Along the way, readers are briefly introduced to a variety of historical figures, including Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, architect Julia Morgan, Margaret “Mom” Chung (the first female Chinese American doctor in the United States) and Berkeley police chief August Vollmer, called “the father of modern policing.” The Golden Gate is an overly sprawling novel, but readers will be both entertained and enriched by its historical details

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The Golden Gate

The Golden Gate

By Amy Chua
ISBN 9781250903600

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