By Shirley N Lew
NYPD Detective Jack Yu likes to use disposable cameras to photograph crime scenes. He’s Chinese American and a native of New York City’s Chinatown. Jack happens to be the fictional main character of Henry Chang’s book series, Detective Jack Yu Investigations.
Like his character Jack, Chang is a native of Chinatown and still resides there. In his series, Jack is brought to Chang’s Chinatown teen hang outs and many actual crime scenes from the 1970’s. The decade was full of shootings, murders and organized crime. Chinatown gangs were notorious for extorting local business owners for protection money. If they didn’t pay up, the business owner’s life, their family and their businesses would be threatened.
“Chinatown Beat has stories that I lived through,” said Chang on his first book. “The neighborhood had gangs in the heyday, and they ruled the neighborhood. It was a violent and vivid time and no one was telling their stories.”
Living those times gave Chang the ability to write those stories and crime scenes vividly. They were so descriptive that a former NYPD police officer who read one of his books claimed he actually reported to one of the crime scenes. Chang chuckled because all the events and characters are fictitious.
Chang’s fourth book published last year, Death Money , takes the detective yet on another murder case, but this time a possible murder-suicide.
“It’s about Jack investigating the death of an unidentified Asian man found in the Harlem River. The case brings him back to the underbelly of his old neighborhood, Chinatown, where he follows a twisting trail of deadly thugs, criminal businessmen, and the scion of a powerful old-line Chinatown family,” Chang explained.
During Chinese Lunar New Year in New York City’s Chinatown, Chang gave complementary pre-autographed copies of Chinatown Beat. People happily came by to pick up copies for themselves and friends, while others learned of him for the first time.
Last Wednesday, Chang moderated a question and answer with writer Richard Price about his novel The Whites before an audience of crime fiction fans at the Tenement Museum. The Whites is about an NYPD detective who has tried to put his accidental shooting of a young boy behind him and is now trying to solve a case.
(Editor note: The first three photos in this story are by Shirley N Lew)