Life Is a Gamble and There Are No Guarantees: MysteryPeople Q&A with Henry Chang

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Henry Chang’s Lucky is the fifth book in his series featuring NYPD detective Jack Yu. That said, much of the novel deals with Jack’s criminal bloodbrother, Tat – also known as”Lucky.” Tat is a former Ghost Legion gang leader, who comes out of an 88 day coma after being shot in the head twice. 88 is considered a number of high luck and Louie presses it by getting some the old gang back together for a spate of daring robberies against some of the leaders of Chinatown’s organized crime. It’s up to Jack to stop his friend before his luck turns bad. This is the most action packed book in the series yet, and still gives us a great look into New York’s Chinatown. Recently, Henry Chang was kind enough to take a few questions from us.

MysteryPeople Scott: Even though all your work is tight, Lucky had even a tighter pace to it. Where you conscious of that while you were writing?

Henry Chang: The tightness of the pace was an adjustment to the storytelling style. Lucky‘s written more like a thriller than a mystery, where you can’t wait to see what Lucky does next. Unlike Jack’s usual investigative mysteries, which can meander culturally as the clues arise, Lucky is an escalating conflict-driven crime world drive-by. Lucky’s actions drive the narrative.

MPS: The series is known as the Jack Yu series, but you usually spend as much time with the person Jack is hunting down. What made you want to delve more into Louie?

HC: Dailo Lucky, – Tat ‘Lucky’ Louie – is one of the dynamic characters from my first book Chinatown Beat. As he was a ‘Big brother’ (dailo) streetgang warlord in NYC’s Chinatown, I felt he could have had a book all his own. He didn’t drive Chinatown Beat ( that would be Mona, the victim femme fatale ) but Lucky is Jack’s Chinatown bloodbrother, sharing a childhood relationship both brotherly and brutal. He didn’t appear in Red Jade, or Death Money, but here’s his return, with I hope, a big Bang!

Lucky is Lucky’s story.

MPS: As a fan of heist stories, I loved the fact that there were a few handful of robberies committed by Louie and his crew. What’s the key to writing a good robbery sequence?

HC: To me, a couple of things are important to a robbery scenario; the threat of, or the use of violence, fear; and the value of the heist, both from a profit-wise, and an emotional capital point of view. You can choose your tool for inspiring fear as befits the scenario, anything from nail guns to surgical instruments to the guns and knives of hostage kidnap. How much money was the heist worth? How much emotional capital was it worth? Revenge? How sweet?

In Lucky, each heist escalates into greater risk – greater reward territory. But the ‘Lucky Eight’ are on a roll. From robbing a tong money-drop to taking down a thriving gambling den, revenge also drives the events in Lucky’s world.

Trouble is, Lucky’s rampage has become Detective Jack’s problem.

MPS: The idea of luck plays a part in the book. What did you want to explore about it?

HC: There’s a saying: ” It’s better to be lucky than good.” Lucky is lucky to have Detective Jack in his corner, is lucky that ‘Murphy’s Law’ hasn’t caught up with him sooner. Luck is unpredictable, and every lottery has a winner. People survive plane crashes and natural disasters. People are born into wealth, and opportunity. Some casino gamblers are lucky.
Then again, people suffer from all forms of misfortune where they’re entirely not at fault. We file that under ‘crap happens.’ How does luck deliver itself to people? No one knows.
Lucky is lucky. Two to the head. Surprised he wasn’t dead. That’s the nature of luck. Life is a gamble and there are no guarantees.

MPS: How has Jack changed since Chinatown Beat?

HC: Since Chinatown Beat, Jack has hardened, has become more cynical. He’s found, and lost love. He’s suffered more physical wounds from violent encounters, and since the FBI or the ATF could be calling, he wonders if he really wants to be an NYPD cop anymore.
Lucky is likely the last Detective Jack Yu book.

MPS: Has Chinatown changed much since the series?

HC: Manhattan’s Chinatown ( there are three Chinatowns in NYC now ) continues to ‘gray out’ ( older residents are dying out and rampant gentrification has displaced people and businesses. Non-Asians are a greater presence in the neighborhood.On the other hand, newer Chinese immigrants ( the Fukinese) have brought new energy and investment, and unfortunately, more crime.There are flourishing Chinatowns in Brooklyn and Queens now but my hometown Manhattan Chinatown is still the godfather of them all. There’s big history here, and American-Chinese know it.

You can find copies of Lucky on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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