Thursday, November 24, 2022

The Good Asian, Vol. 2 by Pornsak Pichetshote and Alexandre Tefenkgi

I did not plan this book's post to land today; I'm working about seven weeks ahead at the moment, and this is the day I'm up to, typing right now on October 7. And I could probably spin out some story about how racism and corruption and the corrosive charms of power and money are the real core values of America, so it's actually appropriate that I have this book today.

But I don't feel up to any of that right now. So I don't have a big conspiracy to wrap it all up in: just the book itself, and what it says. I'll gesture at the wider context - {waves idly at the previous paragraph} - and leave it to you to fill in whatever it means.

This is the back half of a noir detective story in comics form, set in 1936 San Francisco. As you might guess from the title, much of the cast is Chinese, and the rest of the cast is "American" - that was a clear distinction at the time, as similar distinctions are still clear in the minds of horrible people.

It's The Good Asian, Vol. 2 - written by Pornsak Pichetshote and drawn by Alexandre Tefenkgi. I read the first book not long ago, and was impressed. I'm still impressed, this time, but it's a twisty mystery with a lot of details, so I don't know how much plot I can or should get into here.

Our main character is Edison Hark. Back home in Hawaii he's a police detective; I gather mostly respected and considered an equal human man at least a lot of the time. But he's in San Francisco visiting his adopted family, and they and their rich white world have entirely different opinions of the Chinese who have kept so much of their city running for fifty years or more. (Isn't that always the way? The oppressors have to hate the oppressed, or else they'll realize what they're doing.) [1]

His foster father, Mason Carroway, is ill, in a very noir, convenient way: lying in bed, uncommunicative, unable to affect the action of the story until (maybe, sometime) he wakes up. The old man has two children, daughter Victoria and son Frankie - the first volume of The Good Asian largely showed up what Edison's relationship was like with Frankie, both growing up and now that they meet again as adults. And so this one is largely about Victoria.

There will be deep secrets, of course. That's the point of noir. There are a lot of flashbacks - at first back to their youth, and then, toward the end of the book, in more baroque fashion.

Edison is trying to find Lily Chen, who was the old man's cleaning woman and had a very close relationship with him. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Years before, Edison's mother was also his cleaning woman, and the old man went out of his way to help her and her son...take that as you will. Lily has run away, for some reason, and Edison is trying both to find her to bring her back and to untangle why she left.

It's big and complicated, since this is a mystery story, and there will be partial, not-quite-correct explanations along the way, before we get to the end. There will be violence and danger and a lot of racism (and probably just as much sexism, which Pichetshote doesn't specifically call out but I hope he realizes). There are unbalanced people making unhinged speeches in dramatic situations, there are shoot-outs, there are chases and police cordons and people in hiding. At the end we're told Edison will be back, of course.

I personally think it might be a bit too overstuffed, with one too many shocking reversals and a large cast that I lost my way in several times. But every page is fun and exciting and every line of dialogue is true, and it's a hell of a ride the whole way. And, if you're not careful, you just might learn something.

[1] Note that the first time I thought he grew up in SF, but this book makes it clear that the Carroway family lived in Hawaii when Edison was young, and that Edison specifically did not move with them to SF in his early teens rather than moving away at that age. I'm willing to take that as my mistake, not the book changing its mind a few issues in.

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