Codes of Betrayal

Between Little Italy and Chinatown

By William Wetherall

First posted 10 December 2006
Last updated 1 January 2007


Dorothy Uhnak
Codes of Betrayal
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997
293 pages, hardcover

This last novel by Dorothy Uhnak (1933-2006) involves typical Irish, Italian, and Chinese rivalries in New York's ethnic zoo. It's Steamy East tie-in is a murder in a murder in Chinatown and the international romance between an Italian American woman and a Eurasian Chinese businessman and triad boss.

The ostensible hero of Codes of Betrayal is a detective named Nicholas O'Hara whose mother was the daughter of a mafia Don named Nicholas Ventura. O'hara exploits his grandfather's trust to avenge his father's death, which appears to have been ordered by the grandfather.

The plot is deceptively simple and the twists, revealed both in real time and later, are generally plausible. Most plots I don't mind spoiling, but this one I will leave at this -- except to add, without giving much away, that the real hero -- reflecting Uhnak's feminism -- is O'Hara's childhood crush and post-divorce lover.

Not only is O'Hara's lover like a daughter to his grandfather, who has looked after her since her father was killed collecting money for him, but she is the mistress of a Chinese gangster and the mother of the gangster's son. The fates of all three men depend on how she resolves her conflicts of loyalties.

Uhnak was a New York City Transit Police detective (1953-1967) before quiting to return to college and turn full-time to fiction. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, her alma mater, is a setting for intrigue in the novel.

Uhnak, who died of "a deliberate drug overdose" at age 76, wrote ten novels. The earliest and a few others feature tough and tender female detectives who fight both crime and sexual bias.

Novels by Dorothy Uhnak
1964 Policewoman
1968 The Bait
1969 The Witness
1970 The Ledger
1973 Law and Order
1977 The Investigation
1981 False Witness
1985 Victims
1993 The Ryer Avenue Story
1997 Codes of Betrayal