When I was a child, and this must have been before 1999, I remember quite a lengthy novel about a teenage girl investigating the mystery surrounding a textile factory or sweatshop.

The book has a scene where our young protagonist gets slapped by her auntie, but realises the slap doesn’t hurt, that it’s merely a “stage slap”, and her auntie is pretending to punish her so she can escape a dangerous situation.

Towards the end of the novel, when we understand what’s happening, the would-be detective imagines an inverted pyramid balanced on the little sweatshop building, which I think is literally on fire at this point. The villains had been financing a lavish lifestyle by inflating the value of their assets, all backed by this one building and company.

What was this book? I seem to recall the novel was set in Los Angeles and featured many Asian Americans. There was a scene about firecrackers during Lunar New Year, if I recall correctly. And maybe a dragon dance?

1 Answer 1


Could this be Triangle by Katharine Weber?

Amazon's summary:

Esther Gottesfeld is the last living survivor of the notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire and has told her story countless times in the span of her lifetime. Even so, her death at the age of 106 leaves unanswered many questions about what happened that fateful day. How did she manage to survive the fire when at least 146 workers, most of them women, her sister and fiancé among them, burned or jumped to their deaths from the sweatshop inferno? Are the discrepancies in her various accounts over the years just ordinary human fallacy, or is there a hidden story in Esther's recollections of that terrible day?

Esther's granddaughter Rebecca Gottesfeld, with her partner George Botkin, an ingenious composer, seek to unravel the facts of the matter while Ruth Zion, a zealous feminist historian of the fire, bores in on them with her own mole-like agenda. A brilliant, haunting novel about one of the most terrible tragedies in early-twentieth-century America, Triangle forces us to consider how we tell our stories, how we hear them, and how history is forged from unverifiable truths.

It has a would-be detective who's a young woman, a sweatshop building which came to be on fire, and unscrupulous bosses who bore the real responsibility for the disaster. On the other hand, it's set in New York, not Los Angeles, and it seems to have been published in 2006, not before 1999. One of the reviews mentioned something about an Asian American child.

It's worth noting that this is based on a true story - there was a real fire at a textile factory in New York, where poor working conditions (e.g. locked fire doors) led to the deaths of over 100 workers. So at least some parts of the novel are based on real events.

I found it when I decided to vary the search terms slightly, changing "pyramid" to "triangle" (the 3-dimensional nature of a pyramid isn't strictly necessary to understand the idea of a pyramid scheme), so that I was searching for mystery "novel" los angeles "triangle" sweatshop.

  • It seems a little optimistic about the human life span to describe the granddaughter of a 106-year-old woman as "a young woman". That is rather lke hiring 36-year-old Alfred Page to play Belshazzar in Intolerance (1916) considering how long before 539 BC his grandmother was born. Nov 21, 2022 at 1:36

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