Thomas Steinbeck's first novel, In the Shadow of the Cypress, is an historical/archaelogical mystery in three parts. Part one is the journal of an early 20th century marine biologist working in Monterey, California. He tells the story of the California earthquake of 1906 which uproots an ancient cypress tree and the treasure it has hidden for 400 years. The unearthed stone plaque and jade statue would seem to be evidence that Chinese explorers discovered the west coast of North America well before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.
The second part of the book takes up the story as the local Chinese community in Monterey decide what to do about this evidence. Their actions cause the treasure to disappear again for another 100 years.
Fast forward to present day early 21st century, a young marine biologist at the same lab in Monterey featured in part one, discovers the journals describing the treasure and sets out to find the Chinese artifacts.
I wanted to review this book without mentioning that Thomas Steinbeck is John Steinbeck's son, but it was the author's name that prompted me to pick the book off the New Fiction shelf, so that wouldn't be quite honest. However, after reading and enjoying the book, I can recommend it, not only to fans of his father's work, but to anyone interested in California history, Chinese-American culture and Chinese history as well as to anyone looking for an absorbing mystery that solves an intriguing puzzle without violence or mayhem.
1421: the Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
Down to the Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck
USA Today review of Under the Shadow of the Cypress