Coolest Imaginary Private Eye
By the time we meet Allen Choice, the football-star-
turned-crimefighter who drives the novels of Oakland author Leonard Chang, he has changed his name. It used to be Allen Choi. Wrangling with gangsters and killers and fighting for his life in 2004's Fade to Clear, the tough guy worries that he isn't "Korean enough" to please his girlfriend's parents. Choice -- nicknamed the Block, aka Blockmeister -- is far from an expert on his own ancestral culture, and his creator can relate. Chang has been to Korea only once, isn't all that close to his family, and bristles as he remembers an early reviewer who lamented that the first Choice novel, 2001's Over the Shoulder, should have "used more of the character's ethnic heritage." East Bay scenery absorbs the blood and body blows throughout these stirringly literary ventures; in the very first scene of Fade to Clear, a Jamaican gunman in an Oakland warehouse packed with stolen computers calls the cornered Choice "Chinaman." Blockmeister replies in a calm tone spiked with irony: "I'm not Chinese. Actually, I'm Korean."