May 15, 2010

Book Review: Snakes Can't Run by Ed Lin

Snakes Can't Run: A Mystery (Thomas Dunne Books) by Ed Lin

Snakes Can't Run

Book description:
" It's a hot summer in New York's Chinatown in 1976 and Robert Chow, the Chinese American detective son of an illegal immigrant, takes on a new breed of ruthless human smuglers - snakeheads- when two bodies of smuggled Chinese are found dead under the Brooklyn Bridge underpass. But as Robert comes closer to finding some answers, he discovers a dark secret in his own family's past."
The book's title: I knew about the term "snakeheads," having read a mystery set in more recent times about illegal immigration from China. Snakeheads prey on people looking for a way to enter the U.S. at any cost, but the illegals or "snakes" usually face conditions worse than they ever imagined when they get here. I assume that's the meaning behind the title of the book, Snakes Can't Run.

Main character: Author Ed Lin uses dialogue between his characters to give the history of the Chinese immigrants to the U.S., both legal and illegal. Lin also uses the plot and circumstances to explain Chinese customs and culture. The book's main character, Robert Chow, a Chinese American cop with a Chinatown beat, is also a Vietnam vet who sometimes has nighrmares and flashbacks of his time during the war. He tries to help a fellow veteran in Chinatown, Don, who seems to have severe psychosis, insisting there are voices coming from behind the walls of his room. His partner in the police force, Van Dyke, a black cop and a supportive friend, also has family problems of his own and Robert tries to help him with this.

Robert also has to find out the identity of the key player, the top snakehead responsible for the killing of two young men in Chinatown who might have tried to defy the exploiting system of payback to make it on their own. He traces his own father's history as an illegal immigrant and comes up with some surprising finds.

Comments: I learned more about the tongs, what they are, and how they worked in Chinatown to protect and organize people who speak the same dialect or who are from the same villages in China.  I also learned how some of the tongs turned to criminal activity. A good plot, sympathetic main character, and a lot of information about the early Chinese in America. I recommend the book for mystery lovers as well as those interested in this part of American history.

Ed Lin won awards for his first and second mysteries, Waylaid and This Is a Bust. He lives in New York City.

Challenge: Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge, 100+ Reading Challenge, Support your Local Library Challenge

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  1. I love learning while I'm reading and not even realizing it until I'm finished. Sounds like a solid book.

  2. Staci: ;Yes, the book was very informative as well as entertaining!

  3. One of the Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeffery Deaver taught me a lot about the tongs in NYC and I found it fascinating. This looks good too!


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