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Crime/Mystery Series: Yellowthread Street

Hong Kong is an island of some 30 square miles under British administration in the South China Sea facing Kowloon and the New Territories areas of continental China. Kowloon and the New Territories are also British administered, surrounded by the Communist Chinese province of Kwantung. The climate is generally sub-tropical, with hot, humid summers and heavy rainfall. The population of Hong Kong and the surrounding areas at any one time, including tourists and visitors, is in excess of four millions. The New Territories are leased from the Chinese. The lease is due to expire in 1997, but the British nevertheless maintain a military presence along the border, although, should the Communists who supply almost all the colony's drinking water, ever desire to terminate the lease early, they need only turn off the taps. Hong Bay is on the southern side of the island and the tourist brochures advise you not to go there after dark.
War Machine
--William Marshall

William Marshall's Yellowthread Street Books

About the Author

There is not a heckuva lot of Marshall material on the web.

About the Characters

This series being more or less a "cult" classic (despite a British television series, which was awful), there is a lot less about it than it merits. Here are some pages worth at least glancing at:

(In case you came to this page you are reading from a search engine instead of through its site, I will here repeat the brief remarks on the main mystery/crime page that points here.)

These tales remind me of something Ursula Le Guin said in praise of the work of John Bellairs: . . . takes us into pure nightmare before we know it--and out the other side."

Yellowthread Street is a fictional street, and correspondingly named police station, in Hong Kong. The tales are, give or take, what is usually caled "police procedural", but with a twist: they are a weird, curious tapestry of nightmare horrors and roll-on-the-floor-laughing humor. Does that seem an impossible combination? Yes, it does--but Marshall pulls it off, not once or twice, or here or there, but throughout the entire series.

The series is an ensemble production, with Chief Inspector Harry Feiffer, Detective Inspector Christopher O'Yee (that's right, O'Yee), and Detectives Auden and Spencer, plus several other recurring characters. The books are each quite distinct and distinctive, yet there is a definite pattern: a bizarre, inexplicable, and usually horrifying series of crimes--almost always with no comprehensible purpose--commences, while a sub-plot or two with Auden and Spencer (who are almost a vaudeville duo) provides hysterically funny counterpoint. But, as part of Marshall's expert handling of his characters, however sappy Auden and Spencer can be--typically in a truly surreal manner--they are never less than human, and when push comes to shove in the main plot line, they get shot at, bleed, and do heroic (if sometimes foolish) things.

Another common element is that we see, in parallel with the police efforts to understand what in Heaven's name is going on, the criminal going about his affairs, invariably identified only by the nickname hung on him: the Faraway Man, the Hatchet Man, the Technician. Sometimes the criminal is someone who has been visible to the police throughout the story--the sort of "least likely suspect" thing--but sometimes is a completely alienated force. We never know till the end if the crimes and the criminal are the product of madness or of deep criminal cunning; if the latter, the crimes are bizarre because they are covering up some greater yet crime in the making.

These stories are really hard to characterize. Reviewers uniformly either love or hate them; there are no lukewarm opinions.

(A British televison show was based on these books: its chiefest goal seemed to have been to explore just how very badly a dramatization can corrupt and befoul the ideas and characters of a book.)

The Books

Marshall's sixteen Yellowthread Street books are all novels--no short stories--and seem never to have been anthologized or collected.

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