05 Apr / Snakes Can’t Run: A Mystery by Ed Lin
Timing is everything, right? Last weekend, I had our teenage daughter and a friend of hers wandering NYC, and we happened to do the fabulous, downloadable Soundwalk/Chinatown walking tour narrated by Chinatown native Jami Gong – all three of us were attached to one iPod via three-way splitter, trying to navigate around others’ umbrellas in the pouring rain. I had done the walking tour years before … and wasn’t too surprised that a few things had changed, but the wander through the back alleys and secret corners was still just as entertainingly eye-opening. Would recommend it highly to anyone and everyone.
So how fortuitous that I also happened to be reading Snakes Can’t Run, in which Ed Lin takes readers back to 1976 Chinatown to solve another mystery with his tough-guy-on-the-outside-caring-citizen-on-the-inside leading man, Robert Chow. Newly inspired, I hurried back to finish Lin’s third novel, feeling like I was truly just there among the quickly-turning pages.
As the token Chinese American cop in New York, Chow – who made his debut in Lin’s second novel, This Is a Bust – has finally gone from Chinatown ribbon-cutting ceremonies to fulltime detective. He’s still fighting his personal demons: memories of death and destruction as a Vietnam War vet – something he shares with his NYPD partner Vandyne – not to mention his not-so-long-ago alcoholic binges from which he’s still recovering.
When two corpses turn up under the Brooklyn Bridge, Chow’s investigation eventually leads him to chasing down illegal immigrant smugglers, otherwise known as snakeheads who traffic in human flesh. In between, he listens to his partner’s marital woes, deals with his over-demanding mother, helps his erudite girlfriend escape a lifelong Chinatown career, and tries desperately to keep his childhood friend and Vietnam vet Don from completely losing what little is left of his sanity. But the American-born Chow’s greatest challenge is in facing his own family’s troubling illegal immigrant past.
Chow and Vandyne team up with a San Francisco import, a fellow Chinese American detective, who makes California sound like Asian American nirvana … but even if you can take a man out of Chinatown, Chow proves you can’t really take Chinatown out of that man, especially a Chinatown cop. We’ll surely be looking forward to Chow’s next adventures!
P.S. Patrick Radden Keefe’s The Snakehead makes for a fabulous nonfiction companion title, about one of the most notorious, worldwide snakehead operations in recent history.