A ‘Man Out Of Bounds’ In The Old West: ‘The Thousand Crimes Of Ming Tsu’ By Tom Lin

So this was a book I completely judged by its cover. I was browsing at a local bookstore. Look at it. It’s gorgeous. I read the back cover copy. I bought the book nearly instantly.

I’m a big fan of the Westerns, and Tom Lin’s debut novel The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu is a terrific addition to the corpus. At its core, this book is a standard of the genre. Ming Tsu is the son of Chinese immigrants who’s orphaned at a young age and raised by a crime boss to become a killer. When he tries to settle down with a new wife, her father has his men tear him from her and forces him to work for years on the railroads while she remarries. His erstwhile father is held hostage to keep Ming Tsu docile, but when his father dies, Ming’s roaring rampage of revenge begins.

That journey of vengeance leads Ming Tsu down a road where this bleak, nihilistic Western meets another genre: lyrical historical magical realism. Accompanied by his friend the Prophet, a man who knows the future but has no memory of the past, Ming finds himself in a sideshow unlike what you’d expect. Miracles ensue.

I’ll be the first to say that this is not a book for everyone. This is, at its core, a mythic epic. Full of plot and magic, death and poetry. But if you’re looking for deep characterization or even a clue as to what makes Ming tick, this isn’t the book for you. The characters here are archetypes more than they are people. Which is fine for this type of story in my eyes but may leave others frustrated.

I was not left frustrated, however, The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu already stands among some of my favorite Westerns, and I can’t wait to read whatever Tom Lin writes next.

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