Chang’s debut sends a cop from New York’s Chinatown back into his old neighborhood to solve a case of serial rape and murder.
Chinatown is a place where everybody knows everybody’s business. Detective Jack Yu assumes that any number of people know something about the man who’s assaulting little girls. But except for Ah Por, an ancient fortuneteller who tells Jack, “I see fire, and someone with small ears,” nobody’s talking, and Jack knows why: They see the problem as something for their local tongs, Hip Ching and Fuk Ching, to deal with in-house. “How does a cop get help from a community that has no faith in officers of the law?” Jack wonders. It’s a good question, though one Jack spends more time debating than resolving. In fact, Chang’s characters seem to meet mainly for the purpose of making speeches to each other rather than engaging in the give-and-take of action or dialogue. Not even the murder of Uncle Four, a prominent Hip Ching undersecretary, heats up the tale. Instead of emphasizing mystery or momentum, Chang drenches his story in atmosphere, backstories and customs, building up a snapshot of the neighborhood detail by detail, in the manner of James Sallis.
The process of patient accretion works against suspense but guarantees Jack plenty to do in the promised series.