Christopher Banks is an orphan. He spent his first nine years in Shanghai, where his father worked for a British trading company in the opium business. When his parents disappear within days of each other, Christopher is sent to England. He never quite fits in at his school, but ultimately he becomes a world-famous detective. He enjoys his fame and is terrible proud of his career, especially in that he can show up his former classmates with his success. His ultimate wish is to solve the mystery of his parents’ disappearance. Are they dead or have they been kidnapped? He heads back to Shanghai to figure out what really went on in his fuzzy childhood.
Along the way he meets Sarah Hemmings, a society girl who is also an orphan. Her goal appears to be to marry someone rich and famous, and Christopher can’t seem to believe that she would actually love him, a misfit, even though he is a well-respected detective. Ultimately she invites him to run away with her, but he feels compelled to figure out what happened to his parents.
I didn’t exactly connect with the story, but I think the lack of connecting with Christopher is purposeful. He is emotionally detached in many ways, having left a secure life with his mother to being an outsider, alone in the world. I think that I could read a review of the book on someone else’s blog and hit myself on the head saying, “OH! So THAT’S what was going on!!” I think I would have liked this book a lot more in my 20s, when my mind was less filled with my own reality and more able to delve into the labyrinth of a novel like When We Were Orphans.