New Dark Passages Column: Exploring Asian Crime Fiction
My newest LA Times column travels back in time to the 1920s, when Earl Derr Biggers started writing a sextet of novels starring Hawaii-based Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan. Then it jumps forward to more contemporary (and enlightened) views of Asians and Asian-Americans, such as Simon Lewis’s debut thriller BAD TRAFFIC:
its fast pace and staccato style a preliminary enticement to deeper
insights into the changing nature of Chinese mores. When thinking of
his educated daughter, Jian wonders, "Was there ever such a gilded
generation as the urban Chinese born in the Eighties? Their whole lives
they had surfed the edge of a glorious wave of progress. . . . For
them, the world could be trusted to just keep on delivering the goods.
They had known nothing but bounty, so there was something green about
them. They were as alien as foreigners." This sense of entitlement was
built on the backs of those surviving the wreckage of the Cultural
Revolution, where those in power like Inspector Jian humiliated
intellectuals in the name of Mao.
But when ideology disappears, all that's left to believe in is "love
and money, and you'd better have one or the other." But Jian's nihilism
may manifest itself in steeling himself up to kill regardless of
consequence, but it is exactly those consequences — the fate of his
daughter — that allows for personification. The scarred contemporary
landscape of China created his veneer, but having to function in the
greater existential nightmare of a Western world is what restores
Jian's humanity, little by little.
Read on for the rest.