To find out what I mean, you'll have to read the book. For now, know that the novel's opening is worthy of any number of 1950s films noirs. So is the rest of the book, for that matter. The New York of The Naked City contained eight million stories; Year of the Dog makes a valiant run at that number, giving us protagonist Jack Yu, who can't keep away from his old Chinatown precinct; a dying bookie who comments wryly on his own romantic dreams; the hairdresser, cruelly exploited by human traffickers, who tries to help him.
We come to know a boyhood friend of Jack's who dies in gang violence and a mysteriously named Triad official sent from Hong Kong to check on criminal operations in New York, and that's just a start. Chang not only introduces us to Chinatown's newer Fukienese arrivals, with their wide ideological separation from the neighborhood's longer-established residents, but he portrays dangerous criminal rivalries among these relative newcomers. And, of course, the Chinese characters interact, sometimes uneasily or violently, with black, Hispanic and white characters. This is, after all New York.
So effectively has the atmosphere been set that when the climactic confrontation happens, inevitable in general plan, an accident in its details, it seems at once cathartic and fated.
As dark crime novels often do, Year of the Dog has a touch of grim humor. Here, that touch is more wryly comic than most. Sai Go, the dying bookie, thinks of how he might like to spend his final months:
"He had a vision of himself in Thailand somewhere, a sunny tropical vista with brown-skinned girls to ease his remaining days. Spend the nights drinking Singha beer and feasting on satays, chow kueh teow noodles, and tom yum soup.
"When he thought better of it, he felt he could just as easily go to Fat Lily's or Angelina's for brown-skinned girls, and to Penang or Jaya Village for Thai beer, roti and hainam chicken. For the sunny vista he could take a bus south on the interstate, or take the train with the skylight roof to Florida somewhere for a few weeks. Somewhere sunny and not too far. A cruise to one of the islands What would he do with a shipload of lo fang strangers? He could just as well be alone in Manhattan, if he only turned off his cell phones and stayed out of the OTB and Chinatown."
© Peter Rozovsky 2010