Red Jade: A Detective Jack Wu Investigation by Henry Chang (Soho Crime, $14.00, 248 pages)
“Killing two bad guys, taking a cold-blooded murderer home. Not bad for a few days in Seattle, huh?”
Reading Red Jade by Henry Chang is like being on a diet of tasteless fiber before enjoying a fine helping of spicy Mongolian Beef. The vivid cinematic ending is literally preceded by a couple of hundred pages written in a dull and plodding style. In fact, make that plodding, plodding, plodding.
The reader will need to take a suspension-of-reality pill before accepting the story that’s told here. New York Police Detective Jack Yu is an Asian quasi super-hero who can solve multiple crimes while spending a weekend in Seattle, Washington. It’s so hard to believe that Yu can solve a murder that took place in New York City’s Chinatown while in Seattle that the author asks of his male protagonist, “How much destiny could he take?” Indeed… Wherever Detective Yu goes, the evil people he needs to find just happen to be right down the block.
It may or may not be worth mentioning that the book starts with the bloody murder of a young man and a young woman in the Big Apple’s Chinatown. This precedes Jack’s traveling to Seattle with his sometime girlfriend (she’s there attending a legal conference), where he not only solves the case in chief, but another quite big one while he’s at it. Yes, the world is just a convenient stage for Detective Yu.
One might be tempted to think that there’s going to be some interesting scenery covered in a tale set in Seattle. Instead, except for a few walks on very mean streets, the majority of the tale involves Jack’s stay at the Marriott Courtyard near Sea-Tac, while his girlfriend beds at the far more impressive Westin downtown. Jack has an entire extended weekend to work his magic, which sometimes involves beating up two foes at once using his very impressive kung-fu style skills. Sometimes, though, Jack falls back on simply shooting the bad guys when he’s not getting the best of things. Yippee Ki-yay!, as Bruce Willis might say.
Still, credit has to be given to Chang for fashioning a surprisingly energetic and involving ending. It’s a shame it takes one such effort to get to it. This reader felt worn down by the telling, as if the reading took away more energy from me than it could ever hope to repay. Chang writes in small bits and bites (some chapters covering only a single page), which makes me think his skills might be better applied to very short crime stories. Let’s just hope that he comes up with leads that are more reality-based than Detective Jack Yu.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Red Jade was released in trade paper form on November 8, 2011. “Chang fails to make Chinatown engaging… What started out as a promising series has devolved into something quite run-of-the-mill…” Publishers Weekly