Wednesday, January 19, 2022

2. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang

I had this one on my list for a while and found it at Moe's in Berkeley.  Chinatown Beat is part of the new woke pulp and while for me certain elements and tones didn't work, it was still a really good read.  The milieu of NYC Chinatown is excellent, complex and rife with characters.  There is a lot going on and it just skirts the edge of plot complexity that satisfied me while only briefly confusing. 

The strongest part of the book is the setting.  Chinatown was my favourite neighbourhood when I lived in NYC.  I hung out there a lot, but mostly as an outsider, a consumer with some minor insider knowledge.  This book let me see behind the closed doors, into the rich criminal culture I always fantasized about. The plot is a classic noir, centered on the trapped mistress, but there are so many other tentacles wrapped around this core story that it seems much richer.  The protagonist is the detective, Jack Yu, and he is a bit of a bummer.  At times, it felt like the noirishness was laid on a bit thick.  Likewise it gets a bit preachy about anti-Chinese racism.  There was enough "show" of the long, quiet discrimination against Asians, that I didn't think we needed so much "tell" to give the reader the message. There is a subplot of a child rapist that felt out of place and excessively nasty.  I'm not sure what was the point of it, as it never intersected with the main plot.

So I had quite a few misgivings, but they were minor and in the whole, it was a good read.  I will grab the other Jack Yu novels if they cross my path.

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