I apologize, dear readers, for the sporadic posting over the summer. I just got back home after a long weekend in California (which involved a lot of driving). But all my conferences are over and I don’t have any travel plans for the rest of the summer. I hope to get back on track with my reading as of now.
My family has been collecting movie quotes for years. We use them as shorthand for all kinds of situations. (Keeping up with my family conversations requires a massive watching and reading list.) One of them, which my dad used to quote all the time, was on a constant loop in my brain as I read The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu, by Tom Lin. Ming Tsu “is not a hard man to follow. He leaves dead folks wherever he goes.” This novel is a whirlwind of revenge across miles of blistering American desert and frozen mountain ranges as the titular character crosses off names on his hit list on his way back to the woman he loves.
The first chapters have all the makings of a classic revenge story: a wronged man, a path of violence, lots of baddies who are so bad you’d have to work really hard to empathize with them. But then things get weird. Somewhat surprisingly for a man blazing a road of violence, Ming Tsu begins to collect company. The first member is a Chinese man who can predict the future but who can’t remember anything. Then Ming Tsu is hired by a company of performers who can really do miracles. One member can change his shape. Another can speak without vocalizing a syllable. Yet another can go up in flames without burning. Even the road crew have gifts. I was fascinated by the mysterious company. To be honest, I wanted more of their story than I did of Ming Tsu’s.
From the perspective of the traveling company, Ming Tsu’s quest for vengeance hijacks their plan to travel around the west making money. Every town they stop in soon erupts into violence as Ming Tsu either finds another man on his list to kill or gets recognized by someone who saw his face on a bounty poster. I completely lost track of how many people Ming Tsu kills. The plot occasionally slows down to give us a glimpse of Ming Tsu’s past or as one of his companions tells him about there past, but this is not a book about self-reflection. It’s about racism and violence and loyalty, but not about changing one’s mind once it’s made up.
There are parts of The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu that I liked—mostly the traveling miracle show and the highly atmospheric descriptions of the Western desert—but it got lost in Western-genre shootouts. The way I see it, the Western genre is so moribund that any new stories in the genre must do something new. The supernatural elements helped but, like I’ve said, I wanted those elements to be more developed. The ethnically Chinese character also helped. This element is explored a lot more, albeit mostly in the form of a lot of anti-Chinese racism and language and Ming Tsu kicking racist ass across Utah and Nevada (if you can call that exploration). Readers looking for a spin on the classic Western revenge might enjoy this. Readers who want more substance to their gunfights should maybe mosey on down the line.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.