Books by Gus Lee

Released: Sept. 2, 1998

Overwritten, overplotted legal procedural, set in a richly atmospheric Chinese-American Sacramento, that makes a compelling point about the challenges involved in investigating and punishing sex criminals. The recent death of Chinese-American prosecutor Josh Jin's 11-year-old daughter from congenital heart disease not only rendered him emotionally incapable of trying cases but foolish enough to ask his boss, hard-drinking District Attorney Tommy Conover, to apologize for decking a local cop. Conover retaliates by assigning Jin to prosecute a rape case that Jin is certain to lose. Caucasian 13-year old Rachel Farr, whose father and stepmother live in one of the city's predominantly Asian districts, won't even talk of how she suffered at the hands of ex-con "Chico" Moody, an unemployed, disabled veteran known to befriend runaway children. Though Rachel shows the psychological scars of vicious sexual abuse, she refuses to submit to a detailed physical examination. That, plus some shoddy police work, leaves Jin without physical evidence tying her to Moody, who's represented by the beautiful, expensive, and highly competent defense attorney Stacy August, Josh Jin's former lover. As soon as Jin, Sacramento's only Chinese-American prosecutor, zealously pursues the case, he's warned to drop it by city hall sleazes who are suddenly afraid that, by losing it, Jin would doom Conover's chances for reelection. The Chinatown community, meanwhile, wants Jin to persist. Jin himself, who longs to be accepted in American society but is having a tough time staying true to his Chinese roots, can't help but see his dead daughter in Rachel. Alas, author Lee (Tiger's Tail, 1996, etc.), in fact a former district attorney, can—t simply tell the agonizing story of emotionally charged teenage rape cases but buries his tale in annoying complexities about nasty judges, boorish cops, and a conspiracy of closet pedophiles. Awkward legal melodrama enriched by passionate pleading for the protection of children. (Book-of-the-Month alternate selection) Read full book review >
Released: March 27, 1996

A suspense-free crack at a first thriller from Lee (Honor and Duty, 1993, etc.), in which a US Army captain—dispatched in 1974 to Korea's DMZ in search of a missing comrade—stumbles on crimes greater than kidnapping. Jackson Hu-chin Kan, a Chinese-born graduate of West Point assigned to San Francisco's Presidio as a prosecuting attorney, is detached to check on the fate of a colleague who disappeared while on a fact-finding mission to the land of morning calm. Although reluctant to leave Cara Milano (the luscious love of his life) and return to Asia (where he suffered a traumatic experience as an infantry officer in Vietnam), Kan goes to the Far East. Once there, he finds the demilitarized zone separating North from South Korea a veritable island of lost souls. Kan (who spends a lot of time agonizing over the fact that he has a foot in two distinctly different worlds) also discovers this hardship post to be in thrall to its staff judge advocate, a messianic colonel named Frederick C. LeBlanc. As the Watergate investigation gathers momentum back in America, Kan locates and anticlimactically frees the abducted officer. Before he leaves for home, however, he decides to take on the sinister LeBlanc. It's well he does because the crazy colonel has stockpiled tactical nuclear weapons and trained a cadre of troops for use in a preemptive strike against North Korea to protect the perceived interests of the white race. Urged on by Song Sae Moon, a lissome shaman, and by an aging sergeant major whom LeBlanc once framed, Kan (``I am of two worlds. You make me feel my past and a connection ancient and strong'') stymies the madman and helps keep the world safe for democracy—or at least diversity. A labored narrative weighted down by a surfeit of East/West musings that, for all their mystic portent, come across as not much more than self-absorbed maunderings. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 16, 1994

Lee's documentary-like second (after China Boy, 1991) concerns a West Point cadet who comes of age in the shadow of Vietnam at a university plagued by bigotry and cheating. Kai Ting, 17 in 1964, walks onto the West Point campus: ``After all the years of hope, I was here.'' Almost immediately, he and other cadets are ``psychically sandblasted'' all in caps: ``YOU ARE IN IT NOW, CREEP! YOU ARE IN THE PAIN PALACE, THE HURT HOOCH, THE OUCH POUCH, THE BRUISE BAG.'' In San Francisco, his stepmother is a witch: ``I am your mother. Not your stepmother. Give the picture of the Other Woman to your sister. Never, ever make a fist or raise your voice to me!'' His father (``Chinese fathers—for me, such a mystical, frightening term...'') was an officer with Chiang Kai-shek's forces, but West Point is important mostly because it is a way for Ting to certify his American identity. The book's narrative pattern is thus established: it shuttles between West Point and San Francisco. The Class of 1968, for all their military shine, are full of sloth, idealism, and lust; Ting's dreams are to ``study solids,'' ``bench-press three hundred pounds,'' get laid by someone who is not ``dating others,'' and to avoid getting caught between a collegiate cheating ring and the Honor Code. Finally, the whole West Point mess it too much for him, and he gets out in time for a teary-eyed reconciliation with his father. Duty gives way to individual choice, and the torch is passed to a new generation of Chinese-Americans: the story's a bit progammatic but rich in the sociology and folkways of two cultures. (First printing of 50,000) Read full book review >
CHINA BOY by Gus Lee
Released: May 31, 1991

A first novel about a young Chinese boy in 1950's San Francisco who learns to box and protect himself: Lee's quasi- documentary detail and no-nonsense prose offer a vivid glimpse of Chinese-American life, while the Karate Kid plot is fleshed out enough with character and incident to be convincing. Kai Ting, the young protagonist, speaks pidgin English and has a happy childhood with his older sisters and eccentric mother—his father is a decorated war hero known as the ``Colonel''—going to the cinema, participating in family and community rituals, and attending family association banquets. The, however, this mother dies, and his father marries Edna McGurk, of stern Pennsylvania Dutch stock, who institutes abusive controls almost immediately, intending to maintain order and Americanize the children. Kai, for instance, is locked out of the house all day. When he runs home, escaping from Big Willie Mack, the neighborhood bully, his mother refuses to let him inside the house (``I didn't whistle for you''). As a result, Kai wanders about, introducing us to a variety of characters: nine-year-old Toussaint (``my guide to American boyhood''), who tells Kai, ``China, you've gotta be a street fighter''; Hector Pueblo, a Hispanic garage mechanic; and, most importantly, three retired Depression-era boxers at the YMCA. The story then records seven- year-old Kai's training, after which ``I heard better, I saw more. I was becoming more aware, my senses activated.'' At last, he ``opens hostilities'' and, in the pugilistic finale, beats up Willie Mach (Kai: ``I have the power of an oppressed minority'') and forces his stepmother to change her ways. A strong-on-its-own terms addition to the recent Chinese- American literary renaissance. Read full book review >