SOHO Press Inc., $25.00, 215 pages, ISBN 978-1-61695-351-5
Ever been to Chinatown in New York City? Go down to Mott Street in lower Manhattan and it’s as if you’ve stepped into a foreign land . . . it’s a place of exotic sights, sounds and smells, a place where even the signs on the store fronts are in another language; indecipherable for nearly all English speakers. For those who live there, it’s a reminder of the country they left behind and a comfort because of its familiarity. That’s the Chinatown the tourists see, and it faces outward, it’s the public face the world to sees. But there’s another, secret aspect of Chinatown that faces inward; it’s about vice: gambling, prostitution, loan-sharking, drugs, violence and death. It’s where the gangs and criminals, the tongs and Triads with ties going all the way back to China operate with impunity . . . right under the noses of the NYPD.
Death Money, by Henry Chang takes the reader deep into that illicit, hidden Chinatown through the eyes and actions of NYPD Detective Jack Yu as he tries to solve the murder of an Asian man whose body is pulled from the Harlem River. With no identity and no clues as to why the man was killed, Detective Yu searches from the Chinese benevolent associations, underground gambling dens, strip clubs and takeout restaurants from Manhattan to the Bronx looking for answers. Along the way he enlists the aid of an elderly fortune teller and an old acquaintance from the neighborhood in a frantic effort to solve the case before more corpses start showing up. This novel is a continuation of the Jack Yu series and I found it to be the most entertaining one to date. It’s fast pace and “ring of truth” puts it into the hard-boiled camp of the crime fiction genre, and it reads easily, with a familiarity that only a Chinatown native could have. It’s a flat-out fun read. If you haven’t met Jack Yu, you’re in for a real treat.