Set in New York’s Chinatown in 1976, this sharp and gritty novel is a mystery set against the backdrop of a city in turmoil
Robert Chow is a Vietnam vet and an alcoholic. He’s also the only Chinese American cop on the Chinatown beat, and the only police officer who can speak Cantonese. But he’s basically treated like a token, trotted out for ribbon cuttings and community events.
So he shouldn’t be surprised when his superiors are indifferent to his suspicions that an old Chinese woman’s death may have actually been a murder. But he sure is angry. With little more than his own demons to fuel him, Chow must take matters into his own hands.
Rich with the details of its time and place, this homage to noir will appeal to fans of S.J. Rozan and Michael Connelly.
January 20, 1976. The Hong Kong-biased newspaper ran an editorial about how the Chinese who had just come over were lucky to get jobs washing dishes and waiting tables in Chinatown. Their protest was making all Chinese people look bad. If the waiters didn’t like their wages, they should go ask the communists for jobs and see what happens.Here in America, democracy was going to turn 200 years old in July. But the Chinese waiters who wanted to organize a union were going directly against the principles of freedom that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln had fought for.
Those waiters were also disrespecting the previous generations of Chinese who had come over and worked so hard for so little. If it weren’t for our elders, the editorial said, today we would be lumped in with the lazy blacks and Spanish people on welfare.
I folded the newspaper, sank lower in my chair, and crossed my arms. I banged my heels against the floor.
“Just a minute, you’re next! Don’t be so impatient!” grunted Law, one of the barbers. A cigarette wiggled in his mouth as he snipped away on a somber-looking Chinese guy’s head. When he had one hand free, he took his cigarette and crushed it in the ashtray built into the arm cushion of his customer’s chair.
He reached into the skyline of bottles against the mirror for some baby powder. Law sprinkled it onto his hand and worked it into the back of the somber guy’s neck while pulling the sheet off from inside his collar. Clumps of black hair scampered to the floor as he shook off the sheet.
The customer paid. Law pulled his drawer out as far as it would go and tucked the bills into the back. Then he came over to me.
Law had been cutting my hair since I was old enough to want it cut. He was in his early 60s and had a head topped with neatly sculpted snow. His face was still soft and supple, but he had a big mole on the lower side of his left cheek.
You couldn’t help but stare at it when he had his back turned because it stood out in profile, wiggling in sync with his cigarette.
He looked at the newspaper on my lap.
“We should give all those pro-union waiters guns and send them to Vietnam!” Law grunted. “They’ll be begging to come back and bus tables.”
“They wouldn’t be able to take the humidity,” I said.
“That’s right, they’re not tough like you! You were a brave soldier! OK, come over here. I’m ready for you now,” Law said, wiping off the seat. I saw hair stuck in the foam under the ripped vinyl cover, but I sat down anyway. Hair could only make the seat softer.
“I don’t mean to bring it up, but you know it’s a real shame what happened. The Americans shouldn’t have bothered to send in soldiers, they should have just dropped the big one on them. You know, the A-bomb.”
“Then China would have dropped an A-bomb on the United States,” I said.
“Just let them! Commie weapons probably don’t even work!” Law shouted into my right ear as he tied a sheet around my neck.
“They work good enough,” I said.
When Chou En Lai had died two weeks before, the Greater China Association had celebrated with a ton of firecrackers in the street in front of its Mulberry Street offices and handed out candy to the obligatory crowd. The association had also displayed a barrel of fireworks they were going to set off when Mao kicked, which was going to be soon, they promised. Apparently, the old boy was senile and bedridden.
“Short on the sides, short on top,” I said.
“That’s how you have to have it, right? Short all around, right?” Law asked.
“That’s the only way it’s ever been cut.”
If you didn’t tell Law how you wanted your hair, even if you were a regular, he’d give you a Beefsteak Charlie’s haircut, with a part right down the center combed out with a Chinese version of VO5. I was going to see my mother in a few days, and I didn’t want to look that bad.
“Scissors only, right? You don’t like the electric clipper, right?”
“That’s right,” I said. When I hear buzzing by my ears, I want to swat everything within reach. Law’s old scissors creaked through my hair. Sometimes I had to stick my jaw out and blow clippings out of my eyes.
The barbershop’s two huge plate glass windows cut into each other at an acute angle in the same shape as the street. Out one window was the sunny half of Doyers Street. The other was in the shade. How many times had I heard that this street was the site of tong battles at the turn of the century? How many times had I heard tour guides say that the barbershop was built on the “Bloody Angle”?
The barbershop windows were probably the original ones, old enough so they were thicker at the bottom than at the top. They distorted images of people from the outside, shrinking heads and bloating asses. In the winters, steam from the hot shampoo sink covered the top halves of the windows like lacy curtains in an abandoned house.
In back of me, a bulky overhead hair dryer whined like a dentist’s drill on top of a frowning woman with thick glasses getting a perm.
The barbers had to shout to hear each other. The news station on the radio was nearly drowned out. The only time you could hear it was when they played the xylophone between segments or made the dripping-sink sounds.
If you knew how to listen for it, you could sometimes hear the little bell tied to the broken arm of the pneumatic pump on the door. The bell hung from a frayed loop of red plastic tie from a bakery box. When the bell went off, one or two barbers would yell out in recognition of an old head.
The bell went off, and Law yelled right by my ear.
“Hey!” he yelled. Two delayed “Hey”s went off to my left and right. The chilly January air swept through the barbershop. A thin man in a worn wool coat heaved the door closed behind him and twisted off his felt hat. His hands were brown, gnarled, and incredibly tiny, like walnut shells. He fingered the brim of his hat and shifted uneasily from foot to foot, but made no motion to take off his coat or drop into one of the four empty folding chairs by the shadow side of Doyers. He swept his white hair back, revealing a forehead that looked like a mango gone bad.
“My wife just died,” he said. If his lungs hadn’t been beat up and dusty like old vacuum-cleaner bags, it would have been a shout. “My wife died,” he said again, as if he had to hear it to believe it. The hairdryer shut down.
“Oh,” said Law. “I’m sorry.” He went on with my hair. No one else said anything. Someone coughed. Law gave a half-grin grimace and kept his head down, the typical stance for a Chinese man stuck in an awkward situation. The radio babbled on.
The barbers just wanted to cut hair and have some light conversation about old classmates and blackjack. Why come here to announce that your wife had died? The guy might as well have gone to the Off Track Betting joint on Bowery around the corner. No one was giving him any sympathy here.
Death was bad luck. Talking about death was bad luck. Listening to someone talk about death was bad luck. Who in Chinatown needed more bad luck?
“What should I do?” the thin man asked. He wasn’t crying, but his legs were shaking. I could see his pant cuffs sweep the laces of his polished wing tips. “What should I do?” he asked again. The xylophone on the radio went off.
I stood up and swept the clippings out of my hair. The bangs were longer on one side of my head. I slipped the sheet off from around my neck and coiled it onto the warmth of the now-vacant seat. Law opened a drawer, dropped in his scissors, and shut it with his knee. He leaned against his desk and fumbled for a cigarette in his shirt pocket.
I blew off the hair from my shield and brushed my legs off. I pushed my hat onto my head.
“Let’s go,” I told the thin man.
Ed Lin, a native New Yorker of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards and is an all-around standup kinda guy. His books include Waylaid, and a trilogy set in New York’s Chinatown in the 70s: This Is a Bust, Snakes Can’t Run and One Red Bastard. Ghost Month, published by Soho Crime in July 2014, is a Taipei-based mystery, and Incensed, published October 2016, continues that series.
Lin lives in Brooklyn with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and son.
Greetings readers, bloggers, geeks, and authors and welcome to The ToiBox of Words. I’m your host Toi Thomas, author of Eternal Curse, and today I’m sharing a special interview with author, Stephanie Barr, about her fiction book entitled, Legacy. Enjoy!
Where did the idea for Legacy come from?
Well, that’s a long story. I’d written short stories (already in another anthology) and then five novels and had self-published four of them after my divorce. I was having a hard time getting into the mood or writing after my divorce and signed up with a short story contest. Although I didn’t win, I jumped back into short stories as I hadn’t done in years. After a couple years, I had more than thirty of them and nowhere to put them. So, I thought I’d make another anthology. I have another two stories coming out in multi-author anthologies this fall.
Wow, thirty short stories is impressive. With thirty stories in one book, how long is the book?
It is nearly 133k words, so it’s a long read. I was actually expecting a few of my beta readers to complain, but, so far, no one has.
How did the title of this book come about?
“Legacy” is a story in my anthology and involves a pair of teenage boys who survive the atomic bombing in Nagasaki, with one of the boys (Omoto) deeply in love with the other but unwilling to bring that up because he didn’t want to ruin their relationship. When the one loved dies in violence, Omoto has to decide what kind of legacy he’ll leave. I love the title and it seemed fitting for stories that reflect my thoughts, frustrations, societal issues. There are also stories with characters from my novels, my own legacy so the title seemed perfect for the collection.
I’ve seen that quite often, having a whole collection of stories listed under the title of one, but the fact this is a representation of your own legacy, makes this all the more special.
What genre is this book and why did you choose to make it so?
Most of my fiction is fantasy and/or science fiction and my short stories are the same. The short stories that expand on novels are in keeping with the original genres, almost all of my upcoming novel related stories are hard science fiction and the stories that are related to nothing could be anything. I have two that are historical/contemporary, some fantasy, and some science fiction.
Do you worry that including so many different genres will alienate fans of a particular genre?
You know, I really don’t. I’m a character writer and I think the genre is really immaterial if the characters “speak” to the reader. And I hear that a great deal from readers. “I don’t normally like fantasy but this was really good,” or even, “I didn’t get all the technical details, but I just loved Kado.” That is something cool with my science fiction. Because I’m a rocket scientist, the science is pretty sound, especially anything in space.
What would you say is the overall message or the theme of this book?
People are what matters. What you are is not as important as who you are. We all can do something to make the world better. Love is always better than hate.
That’s quite a message, and one you can never seem to have too much of. I like it.
Tell me about the experience of writing this book; how long did it take?
The first contest I wrote for started in January 2015. The last story I added to the mix was in June 2017. There are four stories (Tarot Queen stories) which are the only ones that were written before the respective novel. The rest of the stories, the other twenty-eight, were written in the last two years along with maybe half a dozen I’ve sold or am marketing elsewhere.
So, about two years to write an impressive single author anthology. Not too shabby.
Briefly, describe some of the stories within this book.
I told you about “Legacy.” I’ve got three stories with an autistic scientist in a space station (my son is non-verbal autistic). I have a blind arcane archer with a shapeshifting cat. I have kids escaping from ruthless invaders (prequels to the Bete Novels), meet and fall in love fantasy stories (prequels to Curse of the Jenri), a young couple getting married and the bride’s eccentric grandmother (sequels to Saving Tessa), and several stories centered on a talented Tarot Queen who uses and is used by her cards. And a farcical story of a dragon, a unicorn, and a miller’s daughter.
That last one sounds like the set-up to a cheesy joke, but then you did say it was farcical. I gotta say, I’m really digg’n the diversity of this collection. Nice job.
What are some of the major themes in this book?
Some things are bigger than yourself.
Who you are is more important than what you are.
Love can come from anywhere.
Love is better and stronger than hatred.
Better to try and fail than be silent.
Karma, like natural laws, has no pity.
The quick answer isn’t always the best answer.
Brains over brawn.
There’s more than you think to some people.
Sometimes there is no good answer.
Anything can be taken too far.
Women are powerful.
Appearances can be deceiving.
People are people, no matter the “species.”
Those are some pretty intense and noble themes. I get the feeling that all your writing, at some level, has a greater message to it. Were these themes on your mind when writing these stories or did they develop within the writing process?
Some of the themes come from the novels that spawned the stories. Many of the standalone stories were prompted by particular markets or contests I was going for, but they include my own personal philosophies. “Legacy” was partly inspired by George Takai and his work. Several other stories like “Nemesis” and “Nightmare Blanket” were spawned by frustration with the recent election. I’m pretty adamant about feminism. It’s the long way of saying, some stories are built on the theme and some have the theme built into the story.
What are some of the settings in this book?
I have a space station – and that was fun because I worked with folks on orbit so it’s a bit of an area of expertise (though I don’t know as much as those who lived it). I’ve got high fantasy realms (often with highly patriarchal societies), the Earth in 2058, in a galaxy far far away (had fun with space battles using real orbital mechanics), modern day San Francisco and California between WWII and today.
Whatever the anthology is about, I always enjoy the sense of travel. It’s one of the best parts of reading an anthology, but you don’t get that as much when all the stories happen in the same world. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when being engrossed in stories from the same world is just what I want, but most of the time, I prefer setting diversity.
Who are some of your favorite characters in this book?
Who don’t I love? Characters are my favorite. Okay, I love Saldomar, Tander, Riko, Cristo, Denra, and Klevaron (Curse of the Jenri), Dylan, Nathan, Tessa, and Dotty (Saving Tessa), Dante da Silva, Scruffy, and Gus (Tarot Queen), Xander, Alya, K’Ti, and Laren (the Bete Novels), Bryder and Nayna, Kado—love me some Kado, the Devil, the dragon, Billy, Ryuuji and Omoto.
I love some of the names your characters have. I like that some are average sounding while others are more exotic.
Are there elements of your personality or life experiences in this book?
Oh, yeah. Most of my characters have a bit of me, but some have more than their fair share like Nayna and Dylan who are both very very smart and socially awkward. But the snark that makes my charming characters is mine, too (don’t ask me how both can be true; I can’t explain it) so that’s Dante da Silva, the Devil, Tander, Bryder. Kado, as I mentioned, is patterned on my son though he’s not really non-verbal, more ultra-terse and more ruthless than my son. I’m also a manga otaku who loves yaoi so Legacy is my sort of tribute.
I find that most writers can’t seem to keep themselves out of their stories, I know I can’t, but I like how you swing that a bit to pay tribute to people and influences that you care about the most.
What is one thing from this book you wish was real or could happen to you?
True love. Though inventing something that made me rich and famous would be cool, too.
One thing I’ve learned from reading so much is that true love isn’t always romantic love, (says the girl who married her best friend and can’t get enough of the Princess Bride). I too think I’d like to have something that could make me rich (don’t need the fame).
What is something you wish wasn’t real and hope doesn’t happen to you?
I wish people who were different or smart weren’t judged, bullied or mistreated, though that happened to me (to a lesser extent than in my stories). This is also applicable to minorities, religious minorities, women and LGBTQ folks.
I feel ya. There never seems to be a shortage of reasons for people to pick on others; I do wish the world would go ahead and change already.
Let’s say your book is being turned into a feature length film; quick- cast the main two characters and pick a theme song or score.
That’s really more pertinent to one of my novels, though you could tease a film out of the “Tarot Queen, Melan” stories or “Legacy.” I think Curse of the Jenri would make a great film. Grace Jones was an image I had for Melan. I could really see Scarlett Johansen as Layla and someone like the Rock (though probably younger) playing Tander. But that’s the general attitude he’d need. I always thought the opening credits would be great to a remix of “Witchy Woman” as Layla sneaks into the castle.
I love that opening credits description. Sounds like something I’d totally watch. I understand this question being more suitable to a novel, but what if you could cast a film based on this collection. Imagine something like the Heavy Metal movie (not suitable for children) where one entity connects all the unrelated stories together. Do you think that would be too much?
That’s a very intriguing thought. I don’t have a single thread holding them together, but don’t challenge me. I could come up with something and several stories could be grouped into a single episode.
Do you have any special plans for this book in the near or far future?
Well, I’m hoping to release it in paperback and ebook at the end of July or, at the latest, early August. My other anthologies (stories and poetry) are only available in ebook format (and they’re available for free) but I think this is something special. My friend (Chuck, I mentioned him) says this book is like an anthology of anthologies. I think it’s something special.
Okay readers, bloggers, geeks, and authors, that’s all for today. Be sure to follow this blog to see who will be visiting next time. To try other works by Stephanie Barr, please visit the links provided.
Yeah, this is new and not quite what you were expecting, but go ahead and give it a try.
If anyone is interested in my experience of watching Odd Thomas, click here to see my notes.
You can watch this video on YouTube to leave a comment, like it, and or subscribe to my channel. Please visit my new Page: Curious Questions if you’d like see what, if any, results I’ve collected so far. It’s only been up about a day.
So, have you seen either of these movies? What did you think of them?
Want to offer your two cents on my curious question?
I’d love to see what you think.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. #thetoiboxofwords
In an effort to keep content rolling on my YouTube channel, I’ve been doing a monthly reading challenge update, trying out tags, reading from books, and showing off my stuff (the little bit that I have). Here’s a haul I shot a month ago but never did anything with. Hope you like it…there are minor bloopers at the end.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you like it let me know and share it with others. See you next time, Toi Thomas. #thetoiboxofwords
“What if?” Those two words all too easily send Devorah Fox spinning into flights of fancy. Best-selling author of The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam epic historical fantasy series including “The Redoubt,” voted one of 50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading 2016, and ”The Lost King,” awarded the All Authors Certificate of Excellence. She also wrote “Detour,” ranked in the Top Ten Thrillers in Preditor/Editors Readers’ Choice Poll and “The Zen Detective,” a finalist in the Golden Books Award Contest. She co-authored the contemporary thriller, “Naked Came the Sharks,” with Jed Donellie, contributed to “Masters of Time: a SciFi/Fantasy Time Travel Anthology,” and “Magic Unveiled: An Anthology,” and has several Mystery Mini Short Reads to her name. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she now lives in The Barefoot Palace on the Texas Gulf Coast with rescued tabby cats … and a dragon named Inky.
On the road to Zen enlightenment, homicide detective Will Mansion takes a seductive detour down the path to perdition. When a bust goes terribly wrong, Paradise City detective Will Mansion nearly dies while saving his partner. On leave, Will seeks relief from post-traumatic stress disorder through Zen meditation and abstinence. He responds to the plea of the cryptic Sister Clyde to find a man missing from her soup kitchen, a man who may provide a lead to the vicious drug dealer who nearly killed Will. The search seduces Will away from the healing he seeks and he finds himself on the smarmy Miracle Mile. Alcohol, sex, and the potent drug “Nearvana” numb Will’s pain better than his infant Zen practice. He slips further and further into an underworld of the lost and hopeless only to find himself facing death—again.