Snakes Can't Run
by Ed Lin
Ed Lin picked the '70s as the era of his novel. Here's a blast from the past and a trip down memory lane! Thanks, Ed!
1970's Era of Snakes Can't Run
When I was writing the first book in the series, This Is a Bust, I restricted myself to shows, films, newspapers and books from the 1970s. And maybe it’s not right to use the word “restricted,” because the 70s were an incredibly productive era. The times were also loose.
Listening closely and thoroughly to the early albums by Stevie Wonder and Santana blew my mind. Was it rock? Soul? Salsa? Blues? It was everything and things back then weren’t in easily marketable categories.
Same with crime films. Take The French Connection. Gene Hackman toys with suspects that border on absurd comedy (“Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?") to throw them off. That menacing playfulness of an NYPD cop could only happen in the 70s, before all these pesky suspects’ rights started being enforced. And Hackman as Popeye Doyle, shot that guy in the back! In his eyes (and the viewers), it wasn’t wrong because we know the guy is guilty. Why let him get to trial where jurors could let him off on some dumb technicality? I loved the film so much, after seeing it, I immediately watched both documentaries on the bonus DVD.
What about the claustrophobic confusion of Mean Streets? It’s a film with no good guys. There’s not even okay guys. Just bad guys and worse. Who do you root for? What do you want to happen? As a viewer, you just brace yourself from scene to scene--as dramatic as riding in a 70s New York City subway car as it lurched from station to station, sometimes with the lights going out in between.
I loved the book Bloods by Wallace Terry. It’s an oral history of Vietnam veterans (my narrator Robert Chow and his partner John Vandyne are both vets). One vivid part that I remember is that three men, back from the front, went to church together and were invited to step up to the podium to tell the congregation about their experiences. Each man stepped up and each one choked up and cried without being able to say a word. I found the documentary based on the book at the New York Public Library, and that was riveting, as well
On the flip side, for comic relief, there was “Barney MIller”. It was funny and yet it also allowed discussion on prime time TV about social issues. As a kid, I remember the show was the first time I ever heard about gay men. And who could ever forget Fish’s formula for determining a person’s age: multiply the height by the number of times they go to the bathroom.
America had turned 200 and yet its identity was an open question. Vietnam had ripped the country in half. And apart from what America was going through at the time, China and the Chinese diaspora was at a crucial juncture in 1975-76. The old top combattants in the Chinese Civil War were dead and dying and the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic (Red China) were duking it for world opinion and hegemony over Chinese communities all over the world.
New York City’s Chinatown in the 70s seemed like such a rich time and cultural intersection, how could I not want to write about it? Anything could have happened there, and it did.
GENRE: FICTION/Mystery & Thriller
Set in New York City in 1976, Snakes Can't Run finds NYPD detective Robert Chow still haunted by the horrors of his past and relegated to tedious undercover work. When the bodies of two undocumented Chinese men are found under the Brooklyn Bridge underpass, Chow is drawn into the case. Most of the officers in his precinct are concerned with a terrorist group targeting the police, but Chow's investigation puts him on the trail of a ring of ruthless human smugglers who call themselves the snakeheads. As Chow gets closer to solving the murder, dangerous truths about his own family's past begin to emerge. Steeped in retro urban attitude, and ripe with commentary on minorities' roles in American society, this gritty procedural will appeal to fans of George Pelecanos and S.J. Rozan.
By the time I got to Henry Street under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, one black-and-white and one unmarked police car were already there.
Peepshow was standing at the edge of the crime scene, twirling his baton, the one thing he could do without fucking up. "Keep moving, keep moving!" he yelled to the murmuring Chinese people. He touched his cap when he saw me. I nodded back.
Two bodies, Asian men in their twenties, lay on their sides. Both had their hands tied behind them with wire. They didn't look fresh, and one man's tattoo behind his ears stood out in sharp contrast to the white bloodless flesh of his neck.
I walked up to English, but before I could say anything he put a hand on my shoulde.r
"These fucking bag monkeys won't let me past the tape," he said, pointing out the forensic team collecting samples around the bodies.
"They're just trying to do their job right."
"I'll do their job for them right now. These guys died from gunshot wounds and the bodies were dumped here. You can analyze for blood type all you want, but you can't find the criminals looking down a microscope."
"I hear you."
"You know what solves crimes?"
"Shoe leather. Walking around and asking questions."
"Chow," he said, coming in closer. "You see the guy in the crowd in the red knit shirt smoking a cigarette?"
"Yeah," I said, knowing better than to look immediately.
"I don't like his face. Too smug."
"I'll follow him."
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Ed Lin, a native New Yorker of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards and is an all-around standup kinda guy. His books include Waylaid and This Is a Bust, both published by Kaya Press in 2002 and 2007, respectively. Snakes Can't Run and One Red Bastard, which both continue the story of Robert Chow set in This Is a Bust, were published by Minotaur Books. His latest book, Ghost Month, a Taipei-based mystery, was published by Soho Crime in July 2014. Lin lives in Brooklyn with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and son.
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE:
Ed Lin will be awarding a limited edition print copy of the book to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.