The official site of author Ed Lin.

This Is A Bust

This Is A Bust      


Lin follows his smashing debut, Waylaid (2002), with a murder mystery, sorta. There’s a murder in it, and the narrator-protagonist, NYPD foot patrolman Robert Chow, figures out whodunit. But if that’s why you finish the novel, you’re a strange one. This is, like Waylaid, a brilliant, economical character, setting, and period piece. The token Chinese cop in 1976 Chinatown, Chow is a 25-year-old Vietnam vet suffering from what would later be called post-traumatic stress disorder. He copes by drinking heavily when off duty. Thinking himself a failure for having returned to Chinatown, he is briefly uplifted by a short affair with a brainy high-school classmate, but that’s a flash in the pan. When he finally starts dating the beautiful 20-year-old he buys his daily coffee from, things start turning toward a fairly happy ending. Before he reaches it, though, he has to kick the bottle, which is a beast and a bear to do, and involves discovering that the friendly faces of many who see him daily on his beat are genuine. Part New York neighborhood portrait a la American-theater staples Street Scene and Dead End, part hard knocks but optimistic little-guy’s story a la Edward Dahlberg’s novel Bottom Dogs (1929), Lin’s juicy, dialogue-heavy sophomore effort is rich, flavorful, and humane.

Ray Olson,
Booklist Starred Review


While Robert Chow’s life might be a bust, this second novel for the talented Lin turns out to be quite the page-turner. As the token Chinese policeman in 1976 New York Chinatown, Chow is also an all-American Vietnam vet, barely dealing with the inhumane aftermath of war by drowning himself in booze. While his higher-ups think he’s fit only for ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other photo ops, Chow manages to solve a Chinatown murder solo – it helps to speak the language! – and picks up a few true friends along the way.

Terry Hong,
The Bloomsbury Review


Winner, Members’ Choice, 2008 Asian American Literary Awards

This Is a Bust, the second novel by award-winning author Ed Lin, turns the conventions of hard-boiled pulp stories on their head by exploring the unexotic and very real complexities of New York City’s Chinatown, circa 1976, through the eyes of a Chinese-American cop. A Vietnam vet and an alcoholic, Robert Chow’s troubles are compounded by the fact that he’s basically community-relations window-dressing for the NYPD: he’s the only Chinese American on the Chinatown beat, and the only police officer who can speak Cantonese, but he’s never assigned anything more challenging than appearances at store openings or community events. Chow is willing to stuff down his feelings and hang tight for a promotion to the detective track, despite the community unrest that begins to roil around him. But when his superiors remain indifferent to an old Chinese woman’s death, he is forced to take matters into his own hands. This Is a Bust is at once a murder mystery, a noir homage and a devastating, uniquely nuanced portrait of a neighborhood in flux, stuck between old rivalries and youthful idealism.


Listed in Best American Last Sentences of Books of 2007, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, edited by Dave Eggers.

Rich with political intrigue and a cultural landscape acutely alive, This Is a Bust takes the reader on a journey few are privileged to know. With merciless grace and raw insight, Lin conveys the underbelly of Chinatown, New York in the mid 1970’s. A satisfying literary read that reads with the quickness of a summer fling read—but don’t read it quickly, you’ll want to savor this novel. Dark, beautiful, and humorous and not to be missed.
Debra Magpie Earling author of Perma Red
Reading This Is a Bust as well as Ed Lin’s first novel, Waylaid, is like fixing the frayed wiring of a light socket while standing in your bare feet in water during a lightning storm. Outside. We’re talking about Chinese-American characters who don’t play it safe and never went to medical school or got straight A’s in calculus. Take a risk, read this detective story and encounter a Chinatown well beyond the tourist neon and Grandma-arriving-in-America story.
Shawn Wong author of Homebase and American Knees
This Is a Bust is a work of compelling characters and quiet power. Ed Lin’s ability to delve into the worlds of both Chinatown and post-Vietnam War America with equal authenticity makes him a uniquely talented voice in American literature.
Daniel Dae Kim actor

No cheap shots here–this is the real thing. Ed Lin’s novel, This Is a Bust busted open my brains about New York’s Chinatown. Reading its authentic Chinatown lingo and seeing China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Chinese America through the lenses of its policeman/protagonist made me see migration, language, and Chinatown and China in new ways. Lin takes you inside the homes, cafes, churches, and tenements of Canal Street and its environs–a Chinatown that’s completely the opposite of the Hollywood version. Lin is arguably the most gifted Chinese American writer of his generation; he doesnt pull punches, he writes with wit, grace, and a clear, diffident eye. An important book that I’d teach at UCLA when it comes out and, as important, share with my mother and brother.
Russell C. Leong Editor, Amerasia Journal, UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Dept. of English