A few weeks ago I saw an ad for a new book about New York Chinatown on a museum website. The author, Henry Chang, was going to have a book event there and while I wasn’t going to be in New York for the event, I suddenly felt desperate to read it. The cover totally got me.
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I can’t help doing that. This one was so gorgeous and the police story set in Chinatown seemed like a perfect book to take along on my recent trip to New York. When in Rome, right?
Lucky (Soho Crime, 2017) just came out in March and is part of Chang’s Detective Jack Yu series, which I hadn’t read before (and I’m now wondering why because Henry Chang is an amazing writer and his Detective Yu has a great voice). It’s a quick read and perfect for a weekend away or a couple short flights.
Jack Yu was born and raised in Chinatown like the author, and in this book Yu’s childhood friend, the gangster known as Lucky, is gearing up for a grand comeback after nearly dying in a coma. Lucky gathers a crew of misfit triad members to pull off some daring and violent robberies around New York’s Chinese community. Manhattan Chinatown, Flushing, you name it, they’re shaking it down.
Chang tells the story from Jack Yu’s point of view and from Lucky’s, which really works structure-wise. And he really brings Chinatown to life, taking the reader into the Ching Ming holiday to respect the deceased and to dim sum and cha chaan tengs (Cantonese tea houses) and to the underworld like massage parlors and karaoke bars.
He scatters Cantonese phrases in his dialogue, which is really fun. It’s not always translated, but the reader can get the gist just fine. Chang also subtly refers to racist instances in American pop culture in a way that shows the reader why these sayings are so wrong. Like some Amazon reviewers, I hadn’t read other books in Chang’s series, but now I’m eager to read more.