Thursday, August 5, 2010




Once described as one-part Ed McBain, one-part Suzie Wong, the Yellowthread Street mysteries by Australian author William Leonard Marshall, are in some ways an aquired taste. The novels are an odd combination of suspense, detection, broad humor, and really disturbing situations, which – for the most part – work better than than they should.

In each book in the series, the detectives of the Yellowthread Street police station, located in fictitious Hong Bay, Hong Kong, attempt to find the rational basis for inexplicable and seemingly bizarre crimes – some of which can make the reader decidedly twitchy.

Featuring DCI Harry Feiffer, who is European born but raised in Hong Kong; Senior Inspector Christopher O'Yee, who is half-Chinese, half-Caucasian American, and all neurotic; and the ever-bickering team of Inspectors Auden and Spencer, the Yellowthread Street police station resembles the police sit-com Barney Miller on steroids with lots of violence thrown in.


The Hong Bay district of Hong Kong is seediness writ large, a spectacularly chaotic warren of cut-rate brothels and betting shops and other less wholesome enterprises. Keeping the peace – sort of – are the cops of the Yellowthread Street Station, under the jaundiced eye of Detective Chief Inspector Harry Feiffer.

They're an intrepid (if foul-mouthed) bunch, but even their formidable skills are taxed by the Bay's latest series of little mishaps, which begins with a fellow near the fishmarket chopping up his wife with an axe. Meanwhile, notorious madam Hot Time Alice Ping and her leg-breaker, Osaka the Disemboweler, are plotting revenge on the Mongolian, a giggling, freelance extortionist whose glee at hacking off fingers and other non-essential bits is terrifying the neighborhood shopkeepers.

It all adds up to a breathless night, culminating in a frenzied three-way battle against Hong Kong's neon backdrop. And then there's the tourist from New Jersey who seems to have misplaced his wife . . .

In 1990, Yellowthread Street, became a short-lived British television series, a costly, on-location production attempting to emulate Miami Vice on the seemingly Triad-ridden streets of steamy Hong Kong. The critics reviled the show – as apparently did the viewers. Part of the problem was the style of the novels was impossible to capture, even with novel author Marshall scripting the episode entitled Spirit Runner.


Yellowthread Street (1975)
The Hatchet Man (1976)
Gelignite (1976)
Thin Air (1977)
Skulduggery (1979)
Sci-fi (1981)
Perfect End (1981)
War Machine (1982)
The Far Away Man (1984)
Roadshow (1985)
Head First (1986)
Frogmouth (1987)
Out of Nowhere (1988)
Inches (1994)
Nightmare Syndrome (1997)
To The End (1998)


David Cranmer said...

Had no clue about this series, Bish. And a TV show? Where have I been?! Barney Miller on steroids. Me gusta!

Editor Bill said...

Thanks for mentioning this series. I loved reading it when it came out - in fact, I couldn't wait for the next in the series. My first editions of these hold a place of honor in my heart.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I had this book sitting on a shelf for years but I think I finally passed it on. Too bad.

George said...

I had no idea this series lasted to the late 1990s. I read the first five or six titles. I need to find the rest of the series and read them.

Mel Odom said...

I remember them, but I never read them. Loved some of the titles.

Emma said...

I recently got hold of the tv series, Yellowthread Street, which I remembered loving as a teenager. It's a bit dated now but entertaining (for the wrong reasons - bad fashion, bad acting, mullets and people who clearly don't understand Chinese trying to pretend they do). I'm now in the process of trying to track down copies of the hard to find book series. I've read the first four so far and they are fabulous. Funny, grotesque, gory, great characters and a refreshing un-PC approach to culture clash.