Sunday, February 7, 2016

Year of the Dog: Henry Chang

Year of the Dog by Henry Chang is the 2nd of four books featuring American-born Jack Yu, who is one of only a few Chinese officers in the NYPD. In the first book in the series, Chinatown Beat, Jack Yu is assigned to the Chinatown precinct. In this book, he has been transferred to another precinct,which he prefers because he has too many personal ties in Chinatown. But, with his background, he ends up getting involved with cases in Chinatown anyway.

Jack works many of the standard holidays, whether because he is new to the precinct or he doesn't normally celebrate them. The action begins on Thanksgiving Day in 1994 (the Year of the Dog in the Chinese zodiac). Jack watches the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on a TV at a Korean deli as he sips his bowl of chowder. The novel ends on the first day of the Year of the Pig (January 31, 1995), as Jack attends the Chinese New Year parade.

I liked this book a lot. At the end I noticed that it was very unlike most novels I read. It was more a loosely connected set of stories, mostly centered around the criminal element in Chinatown. There is not any overall crime that is investigated throughout the book. This worked for me, but some readers might come away disappointed.

This paragraph from the book jacket flap describes it well:
In this vivid evocation, Chang shows us the people he understands so well:  a Chinese yuppie whose loss of face ends in tragedy;  an ailing bookie with romance in his soul;  a would-be gang leader and the tough new immigrants from Fukien who confront him;  and the triad official, Grass Sandal, sent from Hong Kong to liase with local benevolent societies. Year of the Dog shows us what exists beneath the surface of the tourists' Chinatown.
This book has strong elements of the noir genre, but I don't see it as totally noir. Most of the story is about the criminal underbelly of New York's Chinatown, but Jack, the main character is ethical, with a strong moral code. There is a story of a secondary character that ends well. I was rooting for that character from the moment she was introduced.

Another favorite character was Police Officer Wong, "a rookie patrolman, a Chinese-American portable who could speak several Chinese dialects." Wong pulls Jack into a missing person case on Christmas Eve.

I will admit to having trouble keeping track of the various criminal characters with similar (to me) Chinese names. There were scenes of graphic violence and sex that could be objectionable to some readers. I did not consider these major flaws, and I will be continuing to read the next two novels in this series. My husband has copies of the whole series, so that will be easy.


I also plan to follow up on reading two novels by Ed Lin set in Chinatown in the 1970's, which I purchased a couple of years ago. Another series I have read set in New York's Chinatown is the Bill Smith/Lydia Chin novels by S. J. Rozan. Those are set in the 1990's to present day. I reviewed the last novel in the series, Ghost Hero, here.

This year, Chinese New Year - The Year of the Monkey - begins on February 8th and lasts until Jan 27th, 2017. I was motivated to read Year of the Dog (at this time) because I saw last year's Chinese New Year Crime Fiction post at Mystery Fanfare. This year's list of crime fiction that takes place during the Chinese New Year is HERE.

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Publisher:   Soho Press, 2008 
Length:       231 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Jack Yu #2
Setting:      New York, Chinatown
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.


19 comments:

  1. TracyK: Yu sounds like an interesting character. I will keep him in mind as I look through bookstores.

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    1. I hope you find one of them, Bill. I am looking forward to reading the third one.

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  2. This sounds great. I have been reading THE SUMMER OF THE BIG BACCHI (Hirahara) which takes places in the Japanese community in LA.

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    1. Patti, I did read SUMMER OF THE BIG BACCHI and plan to read more books in the series. I think I have them all.

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  3. Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I think the Yu series is a good one. In fact, I really need to put it in the spotlight at some point...

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    1. This would be a great series to spotlight, Margot.

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  4. Tracy, I'm glad you liked it, I have Henry Chang and Ed lin on the pile. Have you ever tried author Leonard Chang? There's a Korean-American slant to a lot of his work, I've read his first.

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    1. It definitely had a unique structure, Col, and it is gritty enough for you, for sure. I am looking forward to trying Ed Lin too. I am not familiar with Leonard Chang. I will look out for his books.

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    2. Tracy, Leonard Chang it turns out was also a writer and producer on the TV show "Justified".

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    3. Glen, I think I noticed that when I last watched the show, but kind of forgot it!

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    4. Writer and producer on Justified, how cool. Now we just have to continue watching the series.

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  5. Thanks Tracy - I quite like the idea of a book made up of lots of small incidents rather than a big investigation - will definitely try the series!

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    1. I did like it a lot, Sergio. It wasn't until I got to the end that I realized that there was no overarching case and solution.

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  6. About half the things you said about this book pulled me in, and the other half pushed me away! Eg I'd rather have a driving plot than small incidents, but the setting sounds intriguing. If it turns up I will read it, but I won't seek it out...

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    1. Moira, I can understand that, and that is the way I approach a lot of books nowadays. The first book in the series is more plot driven, but I would say I enjoyed them about the same.

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  7. Tracy, I don't think I have read about a Chinese protagonist in an American police department though I have read about the Chinese mafia in San Francisco. Thanks for the introduction to a new author and his work.

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    1. Prashant, the Henry Chang books I have read so far have been enlightening and I find New York Chinatown interesting. The stories in this series are grittier than in the S. J. Rozan series, and I like both.

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  8. I like this idea a lot, Tracy. My impression is Jack Yu might be considered a modern equivalent of Charlie Chan--the mix of East/West cultures in a police procedural set against an exotic tableau. I shall give it a try.

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    1. Jack Yu is definitely a mix of East/West cultures and values, Mathew. Definitely worth a try.

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