Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Year of the Dog by Henry Chang

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Year of the Dog by Henry Chang. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Year of the Dog by Henry Chang

Year of the Dog by
A Jack Yu Mystery

Soho Crime (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-515-6 (1569475156)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-515-7 (9781569475156)
Publication Date: November 2008
List Price: $24.00

Review: Covering the period from late 1994 through early 1995, NYPD detective Jack Yu faces a number of challenges, personal and professional, in Year of the Dog, the second mystery in this series by Henry Chang.

This is a difficult book to classify. It is not a conventional mystery by any standard definition and even the novel's subtitle, "A Detective Jack Yu Investigation," is not altogether accurate as Jack doesn't really investigate anything for much of the book, spending only a few of the final pages trying to understand why a Chinese youth was brutally killed and looking into the circumstances surrounding an unrelated fatal gang shooting. To make matters more complicated, there really isn't a standard plot with a defined beginning and conclusion. Rather, Year of the Dog is largely a character study -- or maybe more accurately, a cultural study -- of two men who happen to share a common heritage and, for the most part, a common value system, but due to choices each has made, approach life and living from vastly different perspectives.

Several, actually quite a few, characters drift in and out of the story, some with more detailed descriptions of their lives than others, but Jack Yu and Tat Louie ("Lucky"), once blood brothers, now on opposite sides of the law, get the most attention. Both men are deeply conflicted about many aspects of their lives and though in positions of relative power (Jack a respected detective, Lucky the dailo, or head, of the Ghost Legion, a Chinese criminal gang), both feel they're losing the ability to control, or dictate, their respective destinies. The parallels between them are remarkable yet each maintains a distinctive, and quite separate, voice.

The narrative in Year of the Dog is frequently mesmerizing, the author creating a dark and cold, atmospheric environment, drawing the reader into the gritty streets of New York City. But in the end something seems missing, or possibly just incomplete. The questions asked, the situations presented, during the course of the story do not have simple, neat answers, and sometimes there isn't any resolution at all. But in many ways this mirrors everyday life and that's undeniably part of the power and appeal of the book. Year of the Dog concludes with the start of the Chinese New Year, celebrations that mark the end of the year of the dog and welcome the year of pig, as if maybe a new year can be a new beginning, a chance to make a difference during the subsequent 12 months, not only in one's own life, but in the lives of others.

Special thanks to Soho Press for providing an ARC of Year of the Dog for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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Synopsis (from the publisher): He’s been transferred to a different precinct, but Jack Yu cannot get away from Chinatown’s criminals—his old friends—who have hooked up with the Hong Kong-based triads in an elaborate nationwide credit card fraud, nor from the Chinese victims who cry out for justice, like the teenage Chinese take-out delivery boy brutally murdered in the projects.

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