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by Henry Chang
Soho Crime, March 2018
225 pages
ISBN: 1616957840

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Henry Chang writes hard-boiled detective novels featuring New York Police Detective Jack Yu, a Chinese-American cop always on the outs with the top brass and with the rank and file because of his ethnicity and because of his propensity to play by his own rules. In the current offering, now out in a mass-market paperback edition, Jack's boyhood friend, Lucky Louie, has been shot by a rival gang member who wants to do him in. When Lucky awakens from his coma, he skedaddles out of his hospital bed, eluding both police and rival gang members, all of whom have murder on their minds. Lucky's goal, to set up a gang of 8 (a lucky number) and take back the turf claimed by his rivals. Jack Wu knows that Louie's ambitions are so extreme as to constitute a death wish, and he begs his friend to stop his trajectory, to no avail. The rest of the novel unfolds as we watch Louie's plot to take down his rivals brought to fruition.

Dramatis personae: Jack Yu, Chinese-American battle-scarred veteran NYPD Detective, connoisseur of muscle cars and pretty women, for whom the seat of his affections, as well, has taken a beating; Alexandra Lee Chow, Jack's inamorata, who is avoiding him and appears in this book as she-who-is-longed-for; "Lucky" Louie, Jack's boyhood pal who, at the opening of this novel, lies in a coma, with rival gangsters Charlie Jo and his enforcers hovering over his hospital bed, dividing up Lucky and Lucky's territory before he is even dead; Jadine , gangland moll, a real looker, and one of Lucky's Gang of 8; Jojo Yang, shadowy player in the skin trade, and an inductee into Lucky's Gang of 8; Loo Ga, inductee into the Gang of 8, ejected from another gang for "disappearing" contraband, who has more than a passing craze for the swastika, and who is named for the gun he totes, a German Luger; Tall Lam and Short Lam, brother inductees into the Gang of 8 who have army experience and weapons training; Cowboy ah Ngow, inductee into the Gang of 8, master of the secret doors in New York buildings, who is sullied (in the eyes of other gangsters) by his craving for young girls; the young man Say Low, whose brother Lefty has died in gangland violence, and who takes a position on the Gang of 8, his first.

The novel's narration alternates between Jack and Lucky's lives and thoughts. As Lucky plans intricate, careful raids on businesses that have paid rival gangs for protection, Jack, between tracking down missing Alzheimer's victims and acting as translator for Chinese-Americans, muses on his many losses, recently, his father, for whom he has recently practiced a Ch'ing Ming ceremony at his graveside. Jack is moody and his thoughts range all over the scene of Chinatowns of America, most especially over the many ways that people buy and sell one another.

Lucky's first hit will be The Temple Garden Spa, actually a house of prostitution. His next planned hit will be a pair of restaurants down the street from one another and managed by cousins. The restaurants in the area are all under the protection of the Canton Group, and Lucky would like a piece of the protection racket. Lucky's next hit will be the Tsun Jin gambling hall. At each location, Lucky intricately choreographs his gang members' actions: some dress as customers to get inside of the target business. A getaway car or two is parked around a corner and staffed with a driver. A gang member will often start some kind of commotion to draw attention, and then the rest come onto the scene, guns drawn. In all the planned locations, Lucky's goal is to show himself, intimidate, and walk off with a very large portion of the cash on the property. As we follow Lucky and his gang, we, readers, are given quick peeks into places we may not have seen before.

Deeply mannered as noir-ish hardboiled writing, the action is fast, the dialog clipped, time for thought fleeting. We are sunk into a world where women work on their backs and men carry guns instead of billfolds. We inhabit the place called Chinatown but also the mind of Jack Yu, steeped in Buddhism and habits and superstitions of an ancient culture, surrounded by a seamy and unforgiving America.

Dr. Cathy Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a fan of the well-fashioned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, December 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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