Friday, February 03, 2012
Chinatown Mysteries: S. J. Rozan, Henry Chang, More
Henry Chang has staked out generous turf in New York City's Chinatown with Detective Jack Yu, in a trilogy of police detection books: Chinatown Beat, Year of the Dog, and Red Jade. In an interview with fellow mystery author J. Sydney Jones, Chang announced last year that he's now working on a sextet of Jack Yu books to follow the first three. The books are set in the 1990s, Chang's way of creating a bit of personal distance -- and also some protection against accidentally revealing a prosecutable crime, as many of the details in his books come from firsthand experience in the Chinatown neighborhoods, as well as recollections shared by retired criminals. A native New Yorker himself, Chang has an immigrant heritage and uses the tension of parental and community expectations to ramp up the pressures on the characters in his novels. I'm especially fond of Chinatown Beat, and in this trilogy, I'd advise starting from the first book; there are details in the third one, Red Jade, that make a lot more impact if you've consumed the series in order.
S. J. Rozan, whose heritage is not Chinese but who spends plenty of time in New York's Chinatown, offers a very different set of perceptions and tensions in her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. The most recent of these is Ghost Hero. Chin is increasingly warm toward Smith, her detection partner and possibly, some day -- if Chin's mother can't stop it -- a more intimate partner. But there isn't much time for the two of them to connect, as they involve another Chinese-American private investigator to help them probe the complex world of modern Chinese art and high-stakes investment. Unlike Chang, Rozan sets her books very much "now" and one of the best secondary characters is Lydia Chin's cousin Linus Wong, a computer geek with both edge and (oddly) innocence. There are ten other Lydia Chin/Bill Smith books -- the series alternates in narration, from either Chin's or Smith's point of view -- and in this case, there's no need to read them in order. Jump in anywhere. My current favorites are Ghost Hero and On the Line.
Ed Lin, Snakes Can't Run (2010) -- it's his third novel, and is the second featuring Chinese American detective Robert Chow. The Chow books are set in the 1970s in New York's Chinatown, and run dark and gritty; they're worth reading.
Posted by Beth Kanell at 10:08 AM