The Two Chinatowns

One long flight of macho fantasy

By William Wetherall

First posted 5 September 2006
Last updated 5 September 2006


Dan Mahoney
The Two Chinatowns
New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001
New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2002
449 pages, paperback

Dan Mahoney (b1947) is a "Retired NYPD Captain" -- and, also according to his website, an "Almost-Famous Author" and a "Heck Of A Nice Guy". Mahoney's first five crime thrillers, beginning with Detective First Grade (1993), feature Detective Brian McKenna, a NYPD cop who's always bucking departmental rules and getting into trouble. In The Two Chinatowns (2001), his sixth story, Mahoney introduces the Cuban-American NYPD detective Cisco Sanchez as McKenna's partner and makes Sanchez the main character.

Ruthless Asian gangs

The Two Chinatowns sets a lot of action in the smaller Chinatowns of New York and Toronto, before Sanchez, NYPD's finest, has to go to Hong Kong, the world's biggest Chinatown, to nail his 14K nemesis.

The back cover of the paperback edition views the unfolding drama from three angles.

Caught in the grip of ruthless Asian gangs, the Chinatowns of New York City and Toronto are the North American headquarters for a worldwide criminal network specializing in extortion, drugs, immigrant smuggling, and murder.

Detective Cisco Sanchez personifies the city he protects. Brash and cocky, he's also one of the best investigators in an elite division of the NYPD. But when his fiancee is gunned down in a Toronto restaurant by elements of a feared Vietnamese gang known as Born To Kill, Cisco's next assignment is extremely dangerous -- and extremely personal.

Teamed with his partner Brian McKenna, Cisco has to battle departmental rivalries, vicious street killers, and heavyweight financiers as corrupt as they are connected to follow the investigation around the globe and all the way to the top of Hong Kong's organized crime world.

Guess who's coming to dinner

Chapters 1 and 2 establish Sanchez's and McKenna's bona fides as tough cops and tough men. Chapter 3 finds Sanchez at Goo Pan, a Toronto Chinatown restaurant owned by the uncle of his fiance, Sue, who has brought him there to introduce him to her family. The idea is to get Uncle Benny to like Sanchez so he can persuade Sue's mother, Benny's sister, to like him too.

Things don't go too well at the start when Sue's cousin, Linda, fetches her father from the kitchen to come out and meet Sanchez (pages 17-18).

Uncle Benny brushed past Linda, finally got his jacket buttoned, and briefly glanced at Cisco before he focused on Sue. "Aren't you supposed to be on your way to Hong Kong?" he asked as if he were a parent scolding a child.

"Yes, but I called in sick, Uncle," sue answered pleasantly.

"Sick? You don't look sick to me."

"I'm not. Never felt better."

"Not sick, but you called in sick?" Uncle Benny said, apparently having a hard time adjusting to that news.

"Yes, Uncle. Not sick, but I called in sick," Sue retorted with annoyance creeping into her voice. "First time sick in ten years."

Uncle Benny gave Cisco another brief glance, obviously not liking what he saw. "And who is this barbarian?" he asked Sue in Cantonese, using the old, common term to describe anyone who wasn't Chinese.

Common, but Sue was offended. "Please don't call him that," she replied, also in Cantonese. "He's very special to me."

"That's that I've just been told. So what would you like me to call him?"

"Cisco's my name, but barbarian is fine with me, Uncle," Cisco stated in Cantonese as he bowed slightly and extended his hand. "I'm one of your better barbarians, maybe the best."

Both Uncle Benny and Sue stared at him in shock.

Flights of fantasy

It gets worse, then better -- or better, then worse, depending on whether you like Sanchez's conviction that he is the best detective in NYPD, which to him means the world. This possibly best barbarian, though, is unable to prevent murderous punks who invade Goo Pan from killing Sue, a stewardess he had met on flights between Toronto, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

Unknown to Sue, and even to his partner McKenna, Sanchez had been studying Cantonese at Berlitz three days a week -- with the help of "a Chinese detective in the Major Case Squad, Connie Li" -- so that someday he could impress her. Impress her he did, but tragically for only a few minutes.

Mahoney's story rings with barely enough authenticity to numb suspicion that much of the action he depicts is implausible in the real world of international criminal investigation. As a pure escape laced with macho stimulants, though, it is first rate -- something to read on a flight from New York or Toronto to Hong Kong, then leave in the seat pocket for the next guy who needs a fix.