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date: 17 November 2019

Asian American Detective Fiction

Summary and Keywords

Asian American detective fiction is an eclectic body of literature that encompasses works from a variety of 20th- and 21st-century Asian American authors. Prior to the emergence of these writers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in the mystery genre were primarily the domain of white authors like Earl Derr Biggers and John P. Marquand. During the pre-World War II era, “Oriental detectives” like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto enjoyed varying degrees of popularity in literature and film before gradually fading into obscurity. Meanwhile, the few U.S. writers of Asian descent working in the detective genre often refrained from portraying Asian American characters in their works, focusing instead on stories involving white protagonists. However, a sea change occurred when a wave of Asian American authors arrived on the crime fiction scene: Henry Chang, Leonard Chang, Dale Furutani, Naomi Hirahara, and Ed Lin are representative examples. Differentiating themselves from their Asian American predecessors, these writers focused their mysteries not only on detectives of Asian descent but on the specific ethnic communities in which they were born. Using the detective genre’s focus on “Whodunit” as a literary imperative, these works explore contemporary anxieties about Asian American identity in relation to issues of race, gender, sexuality, and national belonging. As a result, many Asian American writers of detective fiction have chosen to reframe Asian American identity through the use of the detective genre, a vehicle through which the racist stereotypes of the past are addressed, combatted, and symbolically defeated. Whether a genre, subgenre, or school of literature, Asian American detective fiction is a rich and ever-evolving form of literary expression that continues to both expand upon and complicate earlier discourses on race, gender, and sexuality within the realms of U.S. crime fiction and contemporary Asian American literature.

Keywords: Asian American literature, Chinese American, detective fiction, hard-boiled, Japanese American, Korean American, mystery, noir, orientalism, popular culture

Asian American detective fiction encompasses a diverse selection of 20th- and 21st-century crime fiction written by Asian American authors and featuring protagonists of Asian descent. A representative example of the form would include any short story or novel focused on the investigation of a crime that features some combination of the following: an Asian American author, an Asian American detective as its lead character, and a focus on Asian American themes or contexts. However, the deceptively simple terms of this definition only raise further questions about the underlying complexities of the descriptor “Asian American.”

As Lisa Lowe points out, “The grouping ‘Asian American’ is not a natural or static category; it is a socially constructed unity, a situationally specific position assumed for political reasons.”1 The term was coined by activist Yuji Uchioka in 1968 to describe a pan-ethnic political alliance concerned with social justice. In Racial Formation in the United States, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant assert that the political label “Asian American” was meant to reflect “the similarity of treatment that various groups such as Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans, etc. (groups which had not previously considered themselves as having a common political agenda) received at the hands of state institutions.”2 This racially based classification of U.S. citizens of different Asian ethnicities under a single umbrella term called “Asian American” is not without its problems, as it puts forth the collective fiction of a reducible, easily objectified idea of a single “Asian America” or “Asian American experience.” Nevertheless, even in its most preliminary form, the adjective “Asian American” was intended as both a semantic claim to an American identity and a direct antidote to the xenophobia inherent in the term “Oriental.” In many ways, the reasoning behind the coinage of the term anticipates the existence of Asian American detective fiction itself, which arose to counteract the pervasive Orientalist depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in the mystery genre.

Early Representations of Asians and Asian Americans in Detective Fiction

There is a specter haunting Asian American detective fiction—the specter of Charlie Chan. In a survey of the field, author Naomi Hirahara defined Asian American detectives as “sleuths who are Americans, either by birth or naturalization, and/or U.S. residents of Asian descent.”3 However, prior to the appearance of Asian American writers of detective fiction in the late 20th century, the portrayal of characters of Asian descent in popular literature had been the predominant domain of white authors. Such characters, like John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto and Hugh Wiley’s Mr. Wong, enjoyed varying degrees of popularity in the realms of literature and film. Of these so-called Oriental detectives, Charlie Chan is perhaps the most famous, if not most infamous, character of them all. Created by Earl Derr Biggers, this Honolulu-based Chinese detective appeared in six mystery novels, starting with 1925’s The House Without a Key. The series proved popular enough with readers to inspire forty-seven American films between 1926 and 1949, spanning four different movie studios and numerous actors in the role of Charlie Chan.

Spearheaded by the Fox Film Corporation (later known as Twentieth Century Fox), the Charlie Chan film franchise began with the success of 1931’s Charlie Chan Carries On, starring Swedish actor Warner Oland in the title role, which he would reprise in fifteen sequels. While three earlier Charlie Chan films starred actors of Asian descent—George Kuwa in the silent film serial The House Without a Key (1926), Sojin Kamiyama in the silent film The Chinese Parrot (1927), and E. L. “Ed” Park in the first Charlie Chan “talkie” Behind That Curtain (1929)—none of them were successful. It took the casting of Warner Oland for the Chinese detective to catch on with white audiences.

After Oland’s death in 1938, the mantle of Charlie Chan was passed to another white actor, Missouri-born Sidney Toler, for eleven more films. However, due to the outbreak of World War II, Fox halted all of its B-picture units, including the Charlie Chan series, which moved to the lower-budgeted Monogram Pictures.4 After Toler passed away in 1947 following an additional eleven-picture stint, he was replaced by Roland Winters, also white, who portrayed Charlie Chan for the final six films, concluding in 1949 with the release of The Sky Dragon.

Despite the tremendous success of the character in the first half of the 20th century, Charlie Chan eventually lost his status as a beloved matinee icon and became closely identified with the racist stereotyping of Asians and Asian Americans in the United States. In each subsequent decade since the demise of the film series in 1949, there have been numerous attempts by book publishers, Hollywood studios, and television networks to resurrect the character. However, on nearly every occasion, the prospects of such a return have been met with heated controversy.

What accounts for the divisive reception to this character? According to popular legend, the real-life inspiration for Biggers’s famous creation was Chang Apana, a detective for the Honolulu Police Department.5 Born “Chang Ah Ping” on December 26, 1871, on the island of Oahu, Apana was famous for brandishing a bullwhip while on duty, a distinctive holdover from his days as a stable master at the Wilder ranch in Nu‘uanu.6 An avid cigar smoker and a lover of Panama hats, the whip-wielding, 130-pound Chang Apana bore little, if any resemblance to his literary counterpart:

He was very fat indeed, yet he walked with the light dainty step of a woman. His cheeks were as chubby as a baby’s, his skin ivory tinted, his black hair close-cropped, his amber eyes slanting. As he passed . . . he bowed with a courtesy encountered all too rarely in a work-a-day world.7

Josephine Lee summarizes Charlie Chan’s contemporary reception as a racist icon, describing the detective as “a self-effacing, polite, ‘domesticated’ Asian who speaks in broken English despite his native-born status, spouts pseudo-Confucianisms, and exemplifies loyal service to a white superior.”8 Nevertheless, had Earl Derr Biggers lived long enough to experience it, he likely would have been puzzled by the criticism levied at Charlie Chan. Most published accounts suggest that Biggers believed his motive for introducing the character to American readers was a positive one: “I had seen movies depicting and read stories about Chinatown and wicked Chinese villains, and it struck me that a Chinese hero, trustworthy, benevolent, and philosophical, would come nearer to presenting a correct portrayal of the race.”9 However, numerous Asian American critics have found fault with these professed motivations. In the landmark 1972 essay “Racist Love,” Frank Chin and Jeffery Paul Chan explained the twisted logic of racist stereotypes such as Charlie Chan. They argued that minorities in the United States are largely perceived by whites at the level of mere stereotype and that “each racial stereotype comes in two models, the acceptable model and the unacceptable model.”10 The “unacceptable” type encompasses a dangerous, uncontrollable vision of the minority in question, while the “acceptable” kind remains obedient and passive. These seeming polar opposites are, in fact, two sides of the same coin, and are characterized by Frank Chin and Jeffery Paul Chan as examples of “racist hate” and “racist love.” Their declaration that Charlie Chan serves as an icon of “racist love” strikes to the very heart of the danger of stereotyping and immediately counters any argument that would wish to position Charlie Chan as a wholly positive figure—his “acceptability” is, in fact, part of the problem.

Frank Chin and Jeffery Paul Chan, along with Lawson Fusao Inada and Shawn Wong, have also been critical of the feminized portrayal of Charlie Chan in their roles as editors for the groundbreaking Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Literature and its sequel, The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature. In these and other works, the “emasculation” of the Asian American man through white racism emerges as a primary concern, a sentiment that has garnered the authors—Frank Chin, in particular—charges of sexism and homophobia: “It is an article of white liberal American faith today that Chinese men, at their best, are effeminate closet queens like Charlie Chan.”11 Various scholars like King-Kok Cheung and David L. Eng have critiqued this masculinist line of thinking, with Jinqi Ling noting that while emasculation is “used as a metaphorical expression of outrage over the humiliations historically suffered by Asian men in America, the term nevertheless evokes a scenario in which being a woman necessarily implies an inferior social existence, to be both feared and repudiated.”12 Thus, despite the Aiiieeeee! editors’ problematic thesis, their discussion of emasculation has some historical precedent, originating with the thousands of Chinese laborers who worked on the Central Pacific Railroad but struggled to find jobs in the years that followed. In Chinese American Masculinities: From Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee, Jachinson Chan expands on the gendered consequences of anti-Chinese discrimination:

The combination of exclusion laws and discriminatory socio-economic practices that refused jobs to Chinese men effectively emasculated the Chinese men. They were treated as inferior men who could not demonstrate their heterosexual identities and they could only find jobs that were deemed by mainstream American society as feminine work.13

Coupled with anti-miscegenation laws and the resultant initiation of bachelor societies in the segregated ghetto of Chinatown, this ostensible “emasculation” of an entire population of immigrant men would have a huge impact on not just Chinese Americans but on a collective sense of Asian American masculinity all the way into the 20th century.14

Meanwhile, in the realm of the mystery genre, less blatantly racist and stereotypical detectives of Asian descent began to appear in works written in the second half of the century. However, none of these Asian or Asian American sleuths reached the level of popularity that Charlie Chan did—and until 1982, not a single one was created by an author of Asian descent.

The First Asian American Authors of Detective Fiction

In the post-World War II era, a number of Asian American authors began writing detective novels, but until the turn of the millennium, most had avoided literary portrayals of Asian American characters. Carlos Bulosan and John Okada, two of the biggest names in the Asian American literary canon, each made attempts at detective fiction, although their respective forays into the genre only enjoyed a wider circulation posthumously. In analyzing both works, it seems clear that both authors were heavily influenced by the detective fiction and film noir that existed at the time.

Bulosan, the acclaimed writer of America Is in the Heart (1946), wrote a detective novel that was unearthed from his manuscripts and finally published in 1998. Told in the first person, All the Conspirators centers on a white American named Gar Stanley, who heads back to his childhood home of the Philippines after World War II to help an old flame find her missing and possibly deceased spouse. In 1947, John Okada, the author of the landmark Asian American novel No-No Boy (1957), wrote a hard-boiled-inflected short story titled “Here’s Proof!” Published as two installments in the Seattle-based Japanese American newspaper Northwest Times, “Here’s Proof!” begins with idle talk among a group of coworkers about the possibility of committing the perfect murder, a conversation topic that turns deadly by story’s end. According to Floyd Cheung, co-editor of John Okada, the nisei author was “perhaps influenced by films like You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939) and novels by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, as well as the ironic denouements of O. Henry stories.”15

Bulosan’s and Okada’s respective efforts in the detective genre are remarkable, considering what is known about their more famous literary works, but a lesser-known author can be credited as the very first published Asian American writer of detective fiction: Milton K. Ozaki. Born in Wisconsin, this former journalist, artist, tax attorney, and beauty salon operator turned to writing crime fiction after World War II. While Ozaki did write under the pen name “Robert O. Saber” on occasion, the majority of his hard-boiled novels bore his actual Japanese surname on the front cover. During Ozaki’s remarkably prolific career that began with 1946’s The Cuckoo Clock, he created several Chicago-based private eyes, including Max Keene and Rusty Forbes, all of whom were white male detectives.16

The next four Asian American writers of detective fiction were women. Technically, the first Asian American detective novel written by a woman would be Murder on the Air, although the book was co-authored and self-published. In 1984, attorney Toni Ihara wrote Murder on the Air with her husband, Ralph Warner. Published through their own company Nolo Press, which sells do-it-yourself legal books to the public, the novel features the first female Asian American detective, Sara Tamura—a Los Angeles-born, third-generation Japanese American. In Murder on the Air, she is paired with the chauvinistic Lt. James Rivers, to investigate the death of an outspoken environmentalist. In the novel’s end note, the co-authors admit that “any similarity between themselves and James Rivers and Sara Tamura is purely intentional.”17

The first Asian American woman to have a detective novel from a major publisher is Laura Joh Rowland. An American of Chinese and Korean descent, Rowland began her career as a mystery novelist with Shinju (1994), the first installment in her bestselling Sano Ichiro mystery series. All of Rowland’s novels in the series are set in 17th-century Japan and consequently do not feature any Asian American characters.

In 1996, Chinese American author Tess Gerritsen became a New York Times bestselling author with the publication of her medical thriller Harvest. However, until her 2011 novel The Silent Girl, Gerritsen’s thrillers exclusively focused on white characters. “As for why I write about mainstream characters, and not Asians,” Gerritson stated in 2005, “I must make a confession here: I’m a commercial writer. I support my family with my writing. . . . I’m not sure the American readership is ready for a thriller series with an Asian in the lead. A sad, but not shocking truth.”18 Nevertheless, Gerritsen’s attempts to court mainstream success paid off when her popular “Rizzoli & Isles” series was adapted into an ongoing TNT television drama, starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander in the title roles.

Gerritsen’s belief that American readers were not ready to accept an Asian or Asian American protagonist seems to be directly refuted by the work of one of her contemporaries, the award-winning author Sujata Massey. With the publication of The Salaryman’s Wife in 1997, Massey began her popular series of detective novels featuring Rei Shimura, a half-white, half-Japanese antiques dealer with a penchant for solving mysteries both in the United States and Japan. Massey, a British American writer of German and Indian descent who writes about a Japanese American character in transnational locales, exemplifies the underlying complexities of defining “Asian American detective fiction” in simplistic terms.

The Rise of Asian American Detective Fiction

At the turn of the 21st century, a group of male Asian American writers emerged on the detective fiction scene, perhaps attempting to exorcise the specter of Charlie Chan once and for all. The early literary efforts of authors like Dale Furutani, Gus Lee, Leonard Chang, Henry Chang, Ed Lin, and Don Lee epitomize a sentiment put forth by acclaimed author Jessica Hagedorn in her introduction to the 2004 anthology Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: “Ingrained in American popular culture, Charlie Chan is as much a part of the legacy of cultural stereotypes that continue to haunt, frustrate, and—dare I say it?—sometimes inspire us.”19 Whatever contemporary Asian American writers of detective fiction may have felt about Charlie Chan, it is clear that they did not see him as a model worthy of imitation. In The Yellow Peril, William F. Wu criticizes the character, saying Chan lacks “the physical strength or toughness of a Philip Marlowe [or] the hard-boiled and romantic drive of a Sam Spade.”20 This perceived deficiency is not surprising, considering that Biggers modeled Charlie Chan after the intellectual sleuths of the classic English detective story. Chan’s lineage from the English tradition helps explains why the first batch of contemporary Asian American writers of detective fiction looked for inspiration in the American hard-boiled detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Unlike its English predecessor, the American hard-boiled mode involves, as film scholar Frank Krutnik argues, “an emphatic process of masculinization” in which the detective “seeks to prove his masculine professionalism” by successfully navigating a forbidding urban landscape, thereby consolidating his masculine identity through the completion of a mystery-related quest.21 This formulaic contrivance of the hard-boiled mode thus provides a narrative vehicle through which masculinity—an issue of undeniable importance in the critical discourse surrounding racist stereotypes of Asian American men—becomes an integral, yet narratively unobtrusive component to the mystery itself.

In 1996, St. Martin’s Press published Death in Little Tokyo, the first detective novel both to be written by a Japanese American author and to focus solely on a Japanese American protagonist. Written by Hawaii-born Dale Furutani, the novel follows the adventures of forty-two-year-old Ken Tanaka, an army veteran-turned-amateur sleuth, who finds himself a suspect in a brutal murder in Los Angeles. Eager to clear his name, Ken searches for the real killer and becomes entangled in an international gun-smuggling scheme and a second unsolved murder that has its roots in the Japanese internment camps of World War II. Published as a paperback original, Death in Little Tokyo was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel in 1997 before going on to win both the Anthony Award for Best First Novel and the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery the same year, making Furutani the first Asian American to take home a major mystery prize. In his short essay, Furutani remarks on his childhood memories of Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto, and how they “looked, talked, and acted like no Asians” he knew.22 “Both characters,” Furutani writes, “were written by non-Asians whose understanding of Asian culture was, to put it kindly, limited.”23 Rather than have his protagonist spout Japanese equivalents to Charlie Chan’s faux-Confucian aphorisms, Furutani portrays characters who are, in his own words, “living breathing Asian Americans grappling with issues like alcoholism, corporate downsizing, and growing up Asian in America.”24

From the very start, Death in Little Tokyo operates as both a parody and an homage to the mystery genre. Throughout the novel, Ken Tanaka ruminates on the image of the private detective, most pointedly in a scene in which he observes himself in a mirror, clearly longing to resemble the hard-boiled detectives of yesteryear:

I was dressed in a tan trench coat and a gray hat. The props helped to compensate for my small frame and delicate features . . . two curses for someone who secretly aspired to be a 1930s hardboiled detective. Of course, my being a Japanese-American from Hawaii is also an impediment to this aspiration. . . . The tan Burberry trench coat was a good fit, but somehow the felt fedora just didn’t look right. I pulled it low over my eyes, but that just blocked my vision. I pulled it off and tried placing it on my head at a rakish angle, but a shock of black hair peeked out and the effect was just goofy.25

In his essay “Samurai Sleuths and Detective Daughters,” critic Theo D’Haen reads this scene as Furutani’s attempt to invoke “the performative conventions of the hard-boiled genre to show how ill they fit a character like himself, and vice versa.”26 In this way, both Death in Little Tokyo and its sequel Toyotomi Blades (1997) examine and ultimately deconstruct Ken Tanaka’s obsession with nostalgic icons of hegemonic masculinity.27 Subsequent Asian American male authors would find themselves tackling the same issue, although with different literary approaches and narrative outcomes.

In No Physical Evidence (1998), Gus Lee uses the legal thriller to weave an effective metaphor for the Model Minority myth. Set in Sacramento, the book revolves around Joshua Jin, a Chinese American district attorney assigned to prosecute a rape case he seemingly has no hope of winning. As John Hawley writes, “Gus Lee’s thematic preoccupations seem to stem from two sources: his as a Chinese American to find a niche in the larger and potentially dismissive American society and his desire to identify and cultivate the characteristics of masculinity as traditionally defined in Chinese tradition, and more importantly, in contemporary American culture.”28 This second preoccupation with masculinity lends itself well to the mystery genre and connects to the remasculinization projects of Frank Chin, as Viet Thanh Nguyen explains:

Though begun in 1968, this remasculinization of Chinese America, initiated by [Frank] Chin, continues in the work of contemporary authors such as Gus Lee because the gendered subordination of Chinese American masculinity persists in mainstream culture through stereotypes that have not substantially changed since their creation in the latter half of the nineteenth century.29

Described as “big and broad-shouldered,” Joshua Jin is not only a boxer but a former homicide detective.30 Joshua’s Chinese heritage is important to him, but it becomes clear that he views himself as a part of American cowboy culture: “People around the globe pay billions to see the idealized American male win—armed, dangerous, and alone against great odds. Better to be tough than smart. Cowboy culture. If it’s a horse, ride it. If it’s a fence, jump it. If it hurts, hide it.”31 Rather than critique or problematize this notion of hegemonic masculinity, Lee’s character seeks to embody it in his quest for justice.

A more nuanced engagement with these issues appeared in 2001 with the release of Over the Shoulder, the first in what would become a series of detective novels by Leonard Chang. In a departure from Chang’s previous award-winning works The Fruit ‘N Food (1996) and Dispatches from the Cold (1998), Over the Shoulder introduced readers to Allen Choice, a Korean American security specialist investigating his partner’s death in San Francisco. With the assistance of San Jose Sentinel reporter Linda Maldonado, Choice not only solves the crime, but uncovers the secrets surrounding his immigrant father’s accidental death some twenty years earlier. The second novel in the series, 2003’s Underkill, takes place two years later with Choice travelling to Los Angeles to help Linda look into her brother’s suspicious death, delving into the drug scene while trying to salvage his disintegrating romance. In the third novel, 2004’s Fade to Clear, Allen—now a full-fledged private investigator—grudgingly agrees to help Linda find her niece, who was kidnapped by the child’s father during a bitter custody battle. During the investigation, Linda is killed, motivating Allen to solve the case and bring her murderer to justice.

While the Allen Choice series fulfills the promise of a standard mystery tale, Chang goes several steps further, delving into the complex web of racial and familial tensions that define his character’s world. Leonard Chang thus exemplifies Cynthia Sau-Ling Wong’s characterization of Asian American writers who have been “formulating an ‘interested disinterestedness’ appropriate to their condition as minority artists with responsibilities to their community but also a need for room to exercise their creativity.”32 By crafting a fictional hero that reflects such a mindset, Chang strikes a clever balance, successfully attending to the formulaic needs of the genre, while still presenting readers with a fully realized, altogether believable Korean American hero. In his essay “Q-Zombies,” Chang explains his motives further: “I have strived to present Asian Americans as unexoticized and regular Americans, sometimes even using genres to camouflage my intentions.”33 As such, the seeming formulaic “constraints” of the detective novel instead create a framework from which Chang can construct his vision of a more credible Korean American protagonist. Instead of the clichéd repository for “ancient Oriental wisdom,” Choice demonstrates an overt lack of knowledge about Korean culture. He cannot speak Korean and knows very little about his ethnic heritage. Furthermore, Allen Choice is more likely to quote Kierkegaard than Confucius, subverting the racist cultural expectations originated through Charlie Chan’s penchant for fortune cookie-style homilies. Due to the depth and complexity of his characters, Leonard Chang’s Allen Choice trilogy amounts to a significant achievement in Asian American writing. Through a single series of books, Chang explores uncharted territory for both hard-boiled detective novels and Asian American literature.34

Chinatown and Beyond

Gus Lee’s Chinatown-set No Physical Evidence found spiritual successors in the crime fiction of two Chinese American authors: Henry Chang and Ed Lin. Born and raised in New York’s Chinatown, Henry Chang has written a series of books anchored by a Chinese American detective named Jack Yu. Entertainment Weekly lauded the series as “an Asian-flavored The Wire,” evoking David Simon’s critically acclaimed HBO series in its praise.35 Although each of his books is typically labeled “A Jack Yu Investigation,” Chang dispenses with the first-person narration common in hard-boiled novels and employs a third-person omniscient style focusing on a panoramic, insider’s view of Chinatown.

In American popular culture, Chinatowns have long been associated with criminality and vice. In characterizing early literary portrayals of Chinatown, Elaine Kim writes, “Stock Chinese brutes and villains abound in a large body of short stories and novels set in the Chinatowns of the West from the latter part of the 19th century until the 1940s,” featuring tales filled with “tong wars, opium dens, and sinister hatchetmen lurking in dark alleyways where mysterious trapdoors and underground passages led to torture chambers and slave quarters.”36 Subsequent to these literary fantasies, Hollywood history is rife with films about the so-called Orient, which for more than the first third of the 20th century specifically meant China and its Chinese American microcosm, urban Chinatown. Chinatown Beat and its sequels are organized in short vignettes that depict a more complicated view of Chinatown, and the novels serve as prime examples of anti-detective fiction—noir of the darkest kind in which happy resolutions, even morally compromised ones, are few and far between.37 As Henry Chang himself admits, “The characters in Chinatown Beat are essentially composites of people I’ve known. Some of the real-life events are reconstructed to facilitate the plot. The poolrooms and bars, the back alleys and gambling joints, the gangs, the unforgiving streets, are the sacred places of my rite of passage.”38 Capitalizing on his personal experiences within the community, Chang goes to great lengths to establish a sordid criminal milieu in his version of New York’s Chinatown, spotlighting various “low-life” denizens and their subjective points of view. For example, Chinatown Beat tracks the converging stories of Jack Yu, a gangster named Tat “Lucky” Louie, triad boss Uncle Four, his mistress Mona, and a limo driver named Johnny who has fallen for her.

While also depicting New York’s Chinatown from “the inside,” the work of Ed Lin offers readers a direct interrogation of the very assumptions about manhood that typify the hard-boiled genre. Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Taiwanese-American Ed Lin made a splash with his 2002 debut novel Waylaid. Lin’s following three novels focus on Robert Chow, a Chinese American police detective.39 This Is a Bust (2007) contains all the trappings of the hard-boiled detective genre, but the real focus is the detective himself, whose traumatic past and self-destructive behavior serve instead as the novel’s central mystery, one in desperate need of a solution. Although a certain criminal element is necessarily a part of the genre, the novel’s first-person narrative, like Henry Chang’s, crisscrosses the lives of police officers, community leaders, restaurateurs, and the average people who populate the streets of New York’s Chinatown.

This Is a Bust begins on January 20, 1976, the day after Jimmy Carter won the Iowa Democratic caucuses and focuses on Robert Chow, a withdrawn, hard-drinking twenty-five-year-old Vietnam veteran and former Chinatown gang member-turned-cop. In a pivotal flashback, Robert is revealed to have fatally shot a child in the Vietnam War, an event which haunts his dreams and waking life: “Sometimes I dream about that little boy I killed. He still runs in at me, only I don’t have my gun anymore. If he gets close enough before I wake up, he explodes in my face.”40 As is typical of the era Lin portrays, Robert returns to Chinatown not as the conquering hero but as the “loser” of the Vietnam War. Similarly, while the image of the hard-drinking hero may be a valorized American cliché, Robert is portrayed in the first novel as a barely functioning alcoholic. Scarred by his wartime experience, he stumbles through the early portions of the narrative in an alcohol-induced stupor, culminating in an intervention by his friends. They force him to quit cold turkey, a process which results in terrifying hallucinations reminiscent of a similar detox sequence in Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel, Farewell, My Lovely. In the Robert Chow series, the detective may don the performative garb of the heteronormative, hyper-masculine hero of hard-boiled detective fiction and film noir, but Lin demonstrates how anachronistic these uncritically accepted conventions are in the modern age. In many ways, Lin’s novels address Jachinson Chan’s claim that “a Chinese American masculinist discourse needs to play an active role in re-defining normative hegemonic models of masculinity and not fall into the discursive trap set forth by controlling images.”41 By the end of the first novel, Lin’s deeply haunted protagonist finds both solace and a renewed sense of humanity, rather than manhood, within a tight-knit, but unconventional domestic sphere.

The final detective novel in this first iteration of Asian American detective fiction is Don Lee’s Country of Origin (2004). While the book is marketed as literary fiction and won an American Book Award, Country of Origin relies on the familiar conventions of the mystery genre, focusing on the whereabouts of Lisa Countryman, an American who disappears while visiting Tokyo and the subsequent investigations to discover her final fate by Japanese detective Kenzo Ota and Tom Hurley, a Foreign Service Officer at the American embassy. Set in 1980 amidst the cultural backdrop of the Iranian hostage crisis, the novel was partially inspired by the real-life case of Lucie Blackman, a twenty-one-year-old Englishwoman who worked illegally as a hostess in Tokyo. She went missing in 2000, and her body was found a year later—cut into eight pieces.42 Country of Origin presents Blackman analogue Lisa Countryman as a seemingly vapid American in search of cheap thrills and easy money in Japan, but as the story progresses, her mixed racial background, academic credentials, and true reason for coming abroad are gradually revealed. However, Lisa’s quest for self-illumination ultimately leads to tragedy.

In Country of Origin, the mystery plot drives the narrative forward, allowing the author to tease out many of novel’s major and minor themes—namely, the dilemma of racial, national, and cultural dislocation in the modern, multiethnic world.43 The novel engages with the specter of Charlie Chan through its two male protagonists, albeit in innovative and unexpected ways. The novel presents thirty-eight-year-old Kenzo Ota, Assistant Inspector in Criminal Investigations at the Azabu Police Station, as a cuckolded, sexless divorcé ostracized by his male peers. Both personally and professionally, Kenzo registers as a weak, emasculated figure. The overall impression he gives is perhaps best summed up by his ex-wife Yumiko, who “had said Kenzo epitomized all that was wrong with the country, calling him a humorless, passionless, sexist wimp.”44 The novel suggests that the mystery genre itself—with its promise of adventure, mystery, and romance—serves as the formal mechanism through which Kenzo will become remasculinized. The novel’s other engagement with Asian American identity formation among men involves the second protagonist, Tom Hurley. Here, Lee transposes the practice of racial masquerade as seen in prior yellow-face performances in Hollywood. Although Tom is half-white and half-Korean, he tells people—despite having no ties to the islands—that he is Hawaiian, “a declaration of racial neutrality that more often than not, let him avoid further inquest.”45 Tom even constructs a detailed backstory, claiming that he grew up on Oahu and has been a lifelong surfer. When forced to confess the truth, Tom reveals the impetus for his elaborate deception:

He told her he had passed through Hawaii on vacation in his early teens, and it had been the one place he’d ever visited where he hadn’t had to explain himself, where it had seemed possible to be both Asian and American at the same time. When people asked what he was, he found it simpler, and more appealing, to say that he was Hawaiian, and then a personal mythography, one that included surfing, had evolved.46

For Tom, claiming a Hawaiian identity is equivalent to making a declaration of “racial neutrality,” as he views Hawaii as a kind of Asian American paradise. However, his conception of heaven naturalizes the majority Asian population in Hawaii without considering the broader racial implications. Jonathan Y. Okamura points out that viewing Hawaii as an ethnically harmonious paradise “only perpetuate[s] the ethnic status order and thus the power and privilege of the dominant groups—Chinese Americans, White, and Japanese Americans—and conversely the subjugation of Native Hawaiians, Filipino Americans, Samoans, and other ethnic minorities.”47 Not surprisingly, Tom Hurley’s subtle re-appropriation of Hawaii from Hawaiians has a precedent in the Charlie Chan franchise, as Chan himself was often referred to as Hawaiian in the series, despite his lack of native roots.

Taken collectively, the novels of Dale Furutani, Gus Lee, Leonard Chang, Henry Chang, Ed Lin, and Don Lee attempt to rehabilitate Asian American masculinity through self-conscious engagements with the hard-boiled mode, but they also, in differing ways, demonstrate the dangers of re-inscribing the dominant heterosexist and racist structure through which the Asian American male has been historically marginalized. Daniel Y. Kim expresses a similar concern in his study of the masculinist writings of Frank Chin and Ralph Ellison when he admits that “what can look and feel like empowerment or liberation from the perspective of heterosexual men of color can easily depend on a disturbing disidentification with and a denigration of other racially and sexually stigmatized identities.”48 However, these experimentations with the detective genre were only the beginning, as a growing number of Asian American writers would explore issues of race, gender, and national belonging from a distinctively female perspective.

Women Authors and the Second Wave of Asian American Detective Fiction

The second wave of Asian American detective fiction included a large influx of women writers and a further blurring of distinctions between literary and commercial fiction. Whereas the first wave of Asian American detective fiction was primarily concerned with dispelling racial stereotypes related to masculinity, later practitioners of the genre had a more varied approach.

In 2003, Suki Kim published her first novel, The Interpreter, which focuses on Suzy Park, a twenty-nine-year-old Korean American working as an interpreter for the New York court system. Through pure coincidence, she discovers a new lead in the five-year-old unsolved murder of her immigrant parents, both of whom were brutally killed in an apparent robbery of their grocery store. Upon learning of this new piece of evidence, Suzy seeks out her estranged sister, Grace, only to discover the shocking truth behind the killings and the high cost of her parents’ American dream. The Interpreter received positive reviews and was a runner-up for the PEN Hemingway Prize and won the PEN Beyond Margins Award and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award.

Similarly, Nina Revoyr also tried her hand at a female-led mystery with her second novel, Southland in 2003. The story centers on Jackie Ishida, a twenty-five-year-old Japanese American law student who discovers long-buried secrets pertaining to an unsolved murder during the Watts Riots of 1965. When her grandfather dies of a heart attack, she attempts to track down a beloved ex-employee named Curtis Martindale. However, Jackie learns that Curtis died many years ago after being locked in the freezer at her grandfather’s store. Crisscrossing the decades, Southland traces Jackie’s investigation to uncover the truth and bring the real killer to justice.49

While Kim and Revoyr focused on female detectives, other Asian American women writers chose to utilize male protagonists, albeit ones who were anything but hard-boiled. Francie Lin’s 2008 Edgar Award-winning novel, The Foreigner, is a noir-like tale set amidst the Taiwanese criminal underworld. The novel focuses on Emerson Chang, a timid forty-year-old virgin who can barely speak a syllable of Chinese, who flies to Taipei to scatter his late mother’s ashes. During the trip, he gets caught up in his little brother’s illicit dealings with the Taiwanese mafia. Lin, a former editor at The Threepenny Review, repositions the Asian American lead as a “foreigner” and focuses on a stereotypical emasculated Asian male, not in an effort to remasculinize him but as a means to examine the social, psychological, and familial pressures that would both create and oppress such a person in the first place.

Naomi Hirahara is the most prolific and accomplished writer of Asian American detective fiction. The Southern Californian has published seven novels in her Mas Arai mystery series.50 Set in 1999, the first novel in the series, The Summer of the Big Bachi, centers on Mas Arai, a seventy-year-old kibei gardener, and his involvement in a murder mystery with roots dating back to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.51 Perhaps one of Hirahara’s more intriguing efforts outside the Mas Arai series is her short story, “Number 19,” published in Los Angeles Noir (2007), in which a white waitress named Ann attempts to intervene on the behalf of her masseuse, known only as “19,” at a Koreatown day spa. Convinced “19” is an illegal immigrant, trafficked into the country and exploited by her employers, Ann takes steps to save her—with disastrous results. Hirahara takes the familiar cliché of the white American “saving” an abject Asian female from a sinister, inscrutable Asian underworld and subverts Orientalist expectations while still attending to the themes and moods of noir.52 In addition to the Mas Arai series and her short fiction, Hirahara went on to create a new series featuring a younger protagonist. With the publication of Murder on Bamboo Lane in 2014 and Grave on Grand Avenue in 2015, Hirahara would introduce Ellie Rush, an LAPD bike cop with dreams of working homicide, suggesting innovative pathways for the genre.

The Future of Asian American Detective Fiction

After the first and second waves of Asian American mystery authors in the 1990s and 2000s, Asian American detective fiction has grown as a field. As a work of young adult fiction, Andrew Xia Fukuda’s Crossing proved to be a significant development of the form. The 2010 novel centers on freshman Kris Xing Xu, who finds himself a daily victim of racist bullying at a small high school in upstate New York. When a rash of child abductions plague the community, Kris’s outcast status makes him the primary suspect. Midway through the novel, the specter of Charlie Chan returns, as Fukuda’s young Chinese American protagonist expresses embarrassment at the memory of his late father, whom Kris considered just another in a long line of “Charlie Chan kowtow specialists who spoke in choppy, sloppy chinglish.”53 However, in this 21st-century novel, the fictional Charlie Chan is much less a concern to Kris than the real-life figure of Cho Seung-Hui, the infamous Virginia Tech killer whose violent legacy impacts how others perceive him—with horrific consequences.54

Since 2010, authors of Asian American detective fiction have continued to experiment with the genre in innovative ways. The succeeding decade saw the release of Jay Caspian Kang’s darkly comic The Dead Do Not Improve (2012), Steph Cha’s Raymond Chandler-inspired Follow Her Home (2013),55 Celeste Ng’s genre-defying Everything I Never Told You (2014), Vu Tran’s Las Vegas-set Dragonfish (2015), Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Sympathizer (2015), and Joe Ide’s Sherlockian IQ (2016).56 The year 2015 marked the publication of Asian Pulp, the first anthology of genre fiction to include work by Asian American authors. The collection features an introduction by Leonard Chang with short stories from Henry Chang, Dale Furutani, Naomi Hirahara, Don Lee, Calvin McMillin, Gigi Pandian, and William F. Wu. In terms of professional accolades, the Mystery Writers of America have also seen fit to recognize Asian American authors for their contributions to detective fiction: Naomi Hirahara has won an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original for Snakeskin Shamisen while Don Lee, Francie Lin, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Joe Ide have each earned an Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

Whether a genre, subgenre, or school of literature, Asian American detective fiction is a rich and ever-evolving form of literary expression that continues to both expand upon and complicate earlier discourses on race, gender, and sexuality within the United States. In Orientals, Robert G. Lee enumerates the various battles fought by Asian Americans throughout U.S. history, a struggle that informs much of contemporary Asian American detective fiction:

The history of Asians in the United States has been a continuous struggle against racial exclusion and subordination as Orientals. Asian Americans have waged fierce battles on the railroads, in the mining camps, in the courts, in the fields, in the factories, and in the university, to assert their claim to be American and define what American means.57

With the advent of Asian American detective fiction, Asian American writers have continued to wage their own literary battles, albeit in the domain of popular culture, staking their claim to a place within the mystery genre and redefining it for future generations to come.

Discussion of the Literature

Asian American detective fiction is a relatively new, complex, and undertheorized body of literature. Early essays on specific novels have been published in academic journals or collected in anthologies like Kathleen Gregory Klein’s Diversity and Detective Fiction and Dorothea Fischer-Hornung and Monica Mueller’s Sleuthing Ethnicity: The Detective in Multiethnic Crime Fiction. However, very few book-length interrogations of Asians and Asian Americans in the detective genre exist.

In 2007, Mystery Readers Journal dedicated two issues to the subject of the ethnic detective. In the first volume, Naomi Hirahara provides an extensive list of Asian American detectives who have appeared in the mystery genre in the post-Charlie Chan age. Although Hirahara’s list focuses on the ethnicity of the detectives, not on their respective authors, she was the first to highlight an emerging group of Asian American writers of detective fiction, including Dale Furutani, Leonard Chang, and even herself. In the follow-up issue, Calvin McMillin’s “Farewell Charlie Chan: A Selected History of the Asian American Detective” provides readers with an analysis of the controversy surrounding Charlie Chan as a racist icon as well as the first detailed overview and critical engagement with contemporary Asian American detective fiction.

Four years later, Betsy Huang published Contesting Genres in Contemporary Asian American Fiction, an examination of Asian American literary production in relationship to three genres: immigrant fiction, crime fiction, and science fiction. She argues that “the political impact of a work—whether resistant, accommodationist, or ambivalent—is ultimately located in the author’s negotiations with the convention he or she is expected to execute.”58 In the chapter on crime fiction, she discusses the racist stereotypes perpetuated by the Charlie Chan series and pop cultural depictions of Chinatown, ultimately asserting that Asian American crime fiction has a significant purpose: “the only way to diffuse [sic] the iconic power of honorable Chan and sinister Chinatown is to return to the constitutive source—namely, the genre that produced them.”59

Monica Chiu’s Scrutinized! offers readers a substantial critical analysis of novels such as Don Lee’s Country of Origin, Nina Revoyr’s Southland, and Suki Kim’s The Interpreter. Focusing on works published between 1995 and 2010, she argues “that current Asian North American novels’ fascination with mystery, detection, spying, tracking, and surveillance is a literary response to contemporary social agitation surrounding race.”60 Jinny Huh’s The Arresting Eye has a chapter on Charlie Chan and “examines the anxiety of detection when race is both visible and invisible throughout the twentieth century into the early decades of the color-blind twenty-first century.”61 Further discussions of detective fiction written by Sujata Massey and Suki Kim can be found in Pamela Thoma’s Asian American Women’s Popular Literature, and a reading of Dale Furutani’s Ken Tanaka novels appears in Theo D’Haen’s “Samurai Sleuths and Detective Daughters.” Furthermore, erin Khuê Ninh provides an illuminating analysis in “The Mysterious Case of Suki Kim’s The Interpreter,” as published in the June 2017 edition of the Journal of Asian American Studies.

Primary Sources

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Cha, Steph. Follow Her Home. New York: Minotaur Books, 2013.Find this resource:

Cha, Steph. Beware Beware. New York: Minotaur Books, 2014.Find this resource:

Cha, Steph. Dead Soon Enough. New York: Minotaur Books, 2015.Find this resource:

Chang, Henry. Chinatown Beat. New York: Soho Crime, 2006.Find this resource:

Chang, Henry. Year of the Dog. New York: Soho Crime, 2008.Find this resource:

Chang, Henry. Red Jade. New York: Soho Crime, 2010.Find this resource:

Chang, Henry. Death Money. New York: Soho Crime, 2014.Find this resource:

Chang, Henry. Lucky. New York: Soho Crime, 2017.Find this resource:

Chang, Leonard. Over the Shoulder. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2001.Find this resource:

Chang, Leonard. Underkill. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Chang, Leonard. Fade to Clear. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Fukuda, Andrew Xia. Crossing. Las Vegas: Amazon Encore, 2010.Find this resource:

Furutani, Dale. Death in Little Tokyo. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Furutani, Dale. Toyotomi Blades. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Furutani, Dale. Death at the Crossroads. New York: William Morrow, 1998.Find this resource:

Furutani, Dale. Jade Palace Vendetta. New York: William Morrow, 1999.Find this resource:

Furutani, Dale. Kill the Shogun. New York: William Morrow, 2000.Find this resource:

Furutani, Dale. The Curious Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in Japan. Amazon CreateSpace, 2011.Find this resource:

Hancock, Tommy, and Morgan McKay, eds. Asian Pulp. Batesville, AR: Pro Se Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Hirahara, Naomi. Summer of the Big Bachi. New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2004.Find this resource:

Hirahara, Naomi. Gasa-Gasa Girl. New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2005.Find this resource:

Hirahara, Naomi. Snakeskin Shamisen. New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2006.Find this resource:

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Ide, Joe. IQ. New York: Mulholland Books, 2016.Find this resource:

Ide, Joe. Righteous. New York: Mulholland Books, 2017.Find this resource:

Ide, Joe. Wrecked. New York: Mulholland Books, 2018.Find this resource:

Kang, Jay Caspian. The Dead Do Not Improve. New York: Hogarth, 2012.Find this resource:

Kim, Suki. The Interpreter. New York: Picador, 2003.Find this resource:

Lee, Don. “The Price of Eggs in China.” In Yellow: Stories. By Don Lee, 13. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.Find this resource:

Lee, Don. Country of Origin. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.Find this resource:

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Further Reading

Abbott, Megan. The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.Find this resource:

Breu, Christopher. Hard-boiled Masculinities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Cawelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.Find this resource:

Chan, Jachinson. Chinese American Masculinities: From Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee. New York: Routledge, 2001.Find this resource:

Chan, Jeffery Paul, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong. Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1974.Find this resource:

Chan, Jeffery Paul, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong. The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature. New York: Meridian, 1991.Find this resource:

Chen, Tina. Double Agency: Acts of Impersonation in Asian American Literature and Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Chin, Frank. “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake.” In The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature. Edited by Jeffery Paul Chan, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, 1–92. New York: Meridian, 1991.Find this resource:

Chin, Frank, and Jeffery Paul Chan. “Racist Love.” In Seeing Through Shuck. Edited by Richard Kostelanetz, 65–79. New York: Ballantine, 1972.Find this resource:

Cohen, Michael. “The Detective as Other: The Detective Versus the Other.” In Diversity and Detective Fiction. Edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein, 144–157. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.Find this resource:

D’Haen, Theo. “Samurai Sleuths and Detective Daughters: The American Way.” In Sleuthing Ethnicity: The Detective in Multiethnic Crime Fiction. Edited by Dorothea Fischer-Hornung and Monika Mueller, 36–52. Cranbury, NJ: Rosemont, 2003.Find this resource:

Eng, David L. Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. London: Duke University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Fischer-Hornung, Dorothea, and Monika Mueller. Sleuthing Ethnicity: The Detective in Multiethnic Crime Fiction. Cranbury, NJ: Rosemont, 2003.Find this resource:

Hirahara, Naomi. “The Post-Charlie Chan Era: Asian American Sleuths from 1946 to Today.” Mystery Readers Journal: The Journal of Mystery Readers International 23, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 3–6.Find this resource:

Huang, Betsy. Contesting Genres in Contemporary Asian American Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Find this resource:

Huh, Jinny. The Arresting Eye: Race and the Anxiety of Detection. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Johnson Gosselin, Adrienne. Multicultural Detective Fiction: Murder From the “Other” Side. New York: Garland 1999.Find this resource:

Kim, Daniel Y. Writing Manhood in Black and Yellow: Ralph Ellison, Frank Chin, and the Literary Politics of Identity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Klein, Kathleen Gregory, ed. Diversity and Detective Fiction. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Lee, Josephine. Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Lee, Robert G. Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Ling Jinqi. “Identity Crisis and Gender Politics: Reappropriating Asian American Masculinity.” In An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature. Edited by King-Kok Cheung. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

MacDonald, Gina, and Andrew MacDonald. “Ethnic Detectives in Popular Fiction: New Directions for an American Genre.” In Diversity and Detective Fiction. Edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.Find this resource:

McMillin, Calvin. “Farewell Charlie Chan: A Selected History of the Asian American Detective.” Mystery Readers Journal: The Journal of Mystery Readers International 23, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 12–15.Find this resource:

Nguyen, Viet Thanh. Race & Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Ninh, erin Khuê. “The Mysterious Case of Suki Kim’s The Interpreter.” Journal of Asian American Studies 20, no. 2 (June 2017): 193–217.Find this resource:

Pepper, Andrew. “Bridges and Boundaries: Race, Ethnicity, and the Contemporary American Crime Novel.” In Diversity and Detective Fiction. Edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Reddy, Maureen T. Traces, Codes, and Clues: Reading Race in Crime Fiction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Shek, Yen Ling. “Asian American Masculinity: A Review of the Literature.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 14, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 379–391.Find this resource:

Thoma, Pamela. Asian American Women’s Popular Literature: Feminizing Genres and Neoliberal Belonging. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Wong, Sau-Ling Cynthia. Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Wu, William F. The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction 1850–1940. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1982.Find this resource:


(1.) Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 82.

(2.) Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (2nd ed., New York: Routledge, 1994), 89.

(4.) David Rothel, The Case Files of the Oriental Sleuths: Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto & Mr. Wong (Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2011), 47.

(5.) Earl Derr Biggers, Harvard College Class of 1907 Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Report (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, June 1932), 43.

(6.) Gilbert Martines, “Modern History of Hawaii” (master’s thesis, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1990).

(7.) Earl Derr Biggers, The House Without a Key (Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 2008), 69. (Original work published 1925).

(9.) “Earl Derr Biggers, Novelist, Is Dead,” Associated Press, Lewiston Evening Journal (Lewiston, Maine), April 6, 1933), 4.

(16.) Subsequent novels by Ozaki, aka Saber, are Milton K. Ozaki, A Fiend in Need (Chicago: Ziff-Davis, 1947); Robert O. Saber, The Black Dark Murders (Kingston, NY: Quinn, 1949); Robert O. Saber, The Deadly Lover (New York: Hanro, 1951); Milton K. Ozaki, The Dove (Kingston, NY: Quinn Publishing Company, 1951) [aka Chicago Woman]; Robert O. Saber, The Scented Flesh (Kingston, NY: Handi-Book, 1951); Milton K. Ozaki, Murder Doll (New York: Hanro Corporation, 1952); Milton K. Ozaki, Dressed to Kill (Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Books, 1954); Robert O. Saber, Too Young to Die (Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Books, 1954); Robert O. Saber, A Dame Called Murder (Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Books, 1955); Milton K. Ozaki, Maid for Murder (New York: Ace Books, 1955); Milton K. Ozaki, Sucker Bait (Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Books, 1955); Milton K. Ozaki, Never Say Die (Sydney, Australia: Original Novels Foundation, 1956); Robert O. Saber, A Time for Murder (Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Books, 1956); Milton K. Ozaki, Case of the Deadly Kiss (New York: Simon Schuster, 1957); Milton K. Ozaki, Case of the Cop’s Wife (New York: Gold Medal Books, 1958); Milton K. Ozaki, Wake Up and Scream (New York: Gold Medal Books, 1959); and Milton K. Ozaki, Inquest (New York: Gold Medal Books, 1960).

(17.) Toni Ihara and Ralph Warner, Murder on the Air (Berkeley, CA: Nolo Press, 1982), 231.

(18.) Tess Gerritsen, “Your English Is So Good!”, July 19, 2005.

(19.) Jessica Hagedorn, “Introduction—Ten Years After: Looking Back, Looking Forward,” Charlie Chan Is Dead 2: A Home in the World: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction (New York: Penguin Books 2004), xxvii.

(21.) Frank Krutnik, In a Lonely Street: Film Noir, Genre, Masculinity (New York: Routledge, 1991), 42.

(22.) Dale Furutani, “Why I Write Ken Tanaka Mysteries.” The Official Dale Furutani Website, February 15, 2005.

(23.) Dale Furutani, “Why I Write Ken Tanaka Mysteries.”

(24.) Dale Furutani, “Why I Write Ken Tanaka Mysteries.”

(28.) John C. Hawley, “Gus Lee,” in Asian American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000), 186.

(31.) Lee, No Physical Evidence, 205.

(33.) Leonard Chang, “Q-Zombies.”, May 22, 2011, 9.

(34.) Leonard Chang has also written for television, including such dramas as Awake, Justified, and Snowfall. For more of Chang’s work, see Crossings (Seattle, WA: Black Heron Press, 2009); Triplines (Seattle, WA: Black Heron Press, 2012); and The Lockpicker (Seattle, WA: Black Heron Press, 2017).

(35.) Will Boisvert, Review of Year of the Dog,, October 22, 2008.

(36.) Elaine Kim, Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and their Social Context (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1982), 10–11.

(38.) Henry Chang, “The Diversity Dick: Cruising with the Ethnic Detective, a Slide Through the Underside,” Mystery Readers Journal: The Journal of Mystery Readers International 23, no. 2 (Summer 2007): 32.

(40.) Lin, This Is a Bust, 45.

(42.) Jeff Kingston, “Monster in Blackman Case Still an Enigma.” Japan Times, February 22, 2011.

(45.) Lee, Country of Origin, 12.

(46.) Lee, Country of Origin, 115.

(47.) Jonathan Y. Okamura, Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai‘i (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008), 5–6.

(49.) Southland was a BookSense 76 pick, Edgar Award finalist, winner of the Lambda Literary Award, and a Los Angeles Times “Best Book” of 2003.

(51.) Summer of the Big Bachi was nominated for a Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and was named one of “The Ten Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2004” by The Chicago Tribune and a “Best Books of 2004” pick by Publishers Weekly.

(52.) See also “The Chirashi Covenant,” 2007, Los Angeles Noir 2 (New York: Akashic Books, 2010), 144–156).

(54.) Crossing was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten First Novel, Editor’s Choice, and Top Ten First Crime Novel.

(59.) Huang, Contesting Genres, 59.

(60.) Monica Chiu, Scrutinized! Surveillance in Asian North American Literature (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2014), 4.