Death Money

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DeathMoneyWritten by Henry Chang — Soho Press returns with the fourth instalment featuring the New York Chinese-American police detective Jack Yu. Yu is on the way to see the department psychiatrist after being involved in a shooting from a previous case when he gets a call from the Thirty-Second precinct. A young Asian man has been found dead, floating in the Harlem River. The local police figure he must be from Chinatown and palm the case of onto Yu. Examination of the corpse doesn’t reveal any identification but does disclose the cause of death – the victim has been stabbed through the heart with a thin, sharp dagger. Yu has a murder case on his hands.

Yu’s first suspicion is that the victim may have been a delivery boy for one of the many take-out restaurants in the area, and his first visit is to his friend Billy, manager of the Tofu King. Billy doesn’t know the man but can arrange for an in with one of the local Chinese Associations, which are a strange mixture of organised crime and philanthropism. Often going back many decades, with roots in the old country, the different associations have ties to prominent families but also local gangs. They represent more of an authority for the Chinatown residents than the police of government.

The representative is not prepared to speak to the police, even a Chinese-American one, bit does give Billy a tip that leads to some restaurants owned by a prominent Chinese businessman, a man Yu learns who has a delinquent young son caught up in Chinatown gang life, and a man who has only recently been the victim of a deadly home invasion. Yu’s investigation will mean trying to pierce the veil of silence and distrust from the Chinatown community where his cop status makes him almost as much of an outsider as other New Yorkers, and will take him to the illegal drinking and gambling dens of Chinatown, into the privileged lives of those who have escaped into the suburbs, and ultimately to a thrilling rooftop confrontation with a triad killer. Because in Chinatown, as we all know, anything can happen.

Chang makes the most of his location, drawing us into its unique world, and giving us a flavour of Chinatown life, language and culture. I was certainly left with an understanding how difficult it must be for Yu, straddling the two worlds of Chinatown and the NYPD, and being fully accepted by neither. The unthinking, almost institutional racism of his colleagues is particularly well depicted.

However there are weaknesses to the book. Yu’s romance with a young lawyer goes nowhere and doesn’t really tell us anything about either character. Also, the police work is rather mundane, and Yu seems to rely a little too much on luck, with information just falling into his hands. I was left feeling as little underwhelmed, and that the backdrop deserved a better story.

Death Money is out on 15 April.

Soho Press

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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