Friday, January 12, 2007
CHINATOWN BEAT: Henry Chang and the Sound of a First Mystery
January Magazine just picked CHINATOWN BEAT for its Best Crime Fiction 2006 list, adding to the buzz and heat around this book. Here's why it's worth reading:
A piece of jade, carved with ideograms that relate to phrases that sound like the I Ching: that's the key to the actions of a Chinese mistress named Mona in New York's Chinatown. Although she's not the protagonist of Henry Chang's first detective mystery, her movements drive the plot from its inception. Chinese detective Jack Yu is caught between "old Chinatown" as spelled out in his father's life and death (and Jack's own traumatic experience as a teen) and "new Chinatown" with its gangs and power struggles (well actually, that's not so new, but perhaps more in-your-face and dangerous than it used to be). And it takes him a while to penetrate the overlapping stories around the death of a "benevolent society" leader, Uncle Four, to discover Mona's driving plan and persuasions behind the scene.
Gritty, definitely in the noir category, penetrated by dark dreams and omens, CHINATOWN BEAT is a great "first mystery." The poet side of me is especially intrigued by Chang's use of fortune-telling phrases and rhythms, his interleaving of language, image, and his abrupt transitions among characters and situations. It's a choppy, jittery tale -- but with an implication that the multiple Chinese languages behind it are forcing that sensation, as they butt up against each other, against translation, and against change.
I'd read it again.
Posted by Beth Kanell at 7:07 PM