Read Death Of A Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong Online


Shanghai in 1990. An ancient city in a country that despite the massacre of Tiananmen Square is still in the tight grip of communist control. Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others. When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lShanghai in 1990. An ancient city in a country that despite the massacre of Tiananmen Square is still in the tight grip of communist control. Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others. When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead. Also, he must keep the young woman's murder out of the papers at all costs. When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area. Chen has a choice: bend to the party's wishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismissal from his job and from the party. Or worse....

Title : Death Of A Red Heroine
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780340897508
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 464 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Death Of A Red Heroine Reviews

  • Whitaker
    2019-01-28 16:34

    If you want to read a novel written originally in English about China and Chinese culture, you can't do better than start with this book. Qiu Xiaolong (in Chinese, the family name comes at the beginning) is not only China born and bred but, as a poet and translator of ancient Chinese Tang poetry and former teacher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is also a bona fide member of the Chinese literati. As an immigrant to the United States where he chose to stay on after the Tiananmen incident, he is, however, writing a police procedural novel for a Western audience. What you get therefore is an authentic look at modern China (not the vomit-inducing yellow-face often found in other works), steeped in Chinese cultural and literary tradition but explained for the Westerner. It's not a translation, so you don't get those awkward constructions that can arise when translating from Chinese into English. And it's a cracking police procedural to boot. Qiu's Inspector Chen is the newly appointed head of the Shanghai Police Bureau's special case squad. The squad, itself a new creation, was formed to handle cases that have a political angle. This allows Qiu to use the crime novel genre to explore the social and political changes sweeping through China, as Chen has to conduct his investigations all the while taking care not to step too hard on powerful political toes. This makes Chen a direct literary descendent of the iconic Chinese figure, Justice Bao (包拯), a semi-historical semi-fictional personage of mythic proportions, legendary for investigating corruption in high places while being wholly incorruptible himself: He is also, however, literary kin to characters such as Simeon's Inspector Maigret or James's Inspector Dagliesh, right down to having his own trademark quirk, in his case, being a poet and having a penchant for quoting Tang Dynasty poetry:He went out to the balcony, but he failed to catch a glimpse of her slender figure retreating into the night. He heard only a violin from an open window above the curve of the street. Two lines from Li Shangyin's "Zither" came to his mind:The zither, for no reason, has half of its strings broken, One string, one peg, evoking the memory of the youthful years.A difficult Tang dynasty poet, Li Shangyin was especially known for this elusive couplet. Certainly it was not about the ancient musical instrument. Why, all of a sudden, the lines came rushing to him, he did not know. The murder case? A young woman. A life in its prime wasted. All the broken strings. The lost sounds. Only half of its years lived. Or was there something else?The use of literary allusions is also very much in line with classical Chinese works where such references were de rigueur to show one's learning. Here, Qiu unpacks the allusion for us, explaining its provenance and musing on the meaning of its use. Qiu does this work of unpacking in other ways as well, and does this reasonably discretely, explaining only when he feels he has to:Chen did not answer the question. He had a ready excuse in busily unwrapping the [dish,] beggar's chicken. It smelled wonderful. The recipe had supposedly originated when a beggar baked a soil-and-lotus-leaf-wrapped chicken in a pile of ashes. The result was an astonishing success.But Qiu also omits explanations when these are not needed, such as in his use of four-character Chinese idioms, a quintessential feature of the writing of any educated Chinese person. In this following passage he uses the phrase 雨后春笋 [yǔhòuchūnsǔn] ("bamboo shoots after a spring rain"), used to indicate rapid and plentiful growth and equivalent to saying in English "sprang up like mushrooms":A small fishing village during the Ming dynasty, Shanghai had developed into one of the most prosperous cities in the Far East, with foreign companies and factories appearing like bamboo shoots after a spring rain, and people pouring in from everywhere.Chen's repeated references to Tang poetry are either your cup of tea or not, but before you decry them for being nothing more than pretentious sound and fury think of how often Western novels expressly or implicitly reference earlier foundational cultural works, all without having to directly acknowledge the debt because the reference forms part of the Western world's cultural capital. In this we are all borrowers and lenders. The only difference here is that the cultural referents Qiu is working with have to be explained to his Western audience, which he obligingly and not too disruptively does. The references, moreover, anchor Qiu's work, setting modern China in the framework of its political and cultural past, via the use of this cultural and social resonance. And this brings me to the one aspect of this novel that pushed it from three all the way to five stars for me. A key and explicit reference in the novel is made multiple times to the great Chinese classic, 红楼梦 (hóng lóu mèng) (The Dream of the Red Chamber, also known as The Story of the Stone). Its author, Cao Xueqin, used his story of the wealthy Jia family to criticise the corruption and materialism of Chinese society in his time. This too is a running theme in Qiu's novel. Qiu's reference is not merely to recall China's historical problems with corruption and materialism, however, but to provide a counter to the message of this canonical work. In The Dream of the Red Chamber, the protagonist, Baoyu, struggles between fulfilling his duty to his family—by successfully taking the Imperial examinations and becoming an important and wealthy court official—and his own desire to write poetry. The struggle is also mirrored in his love life. His family want him to marry Baochai, a girl with wealth and family connections whom he does not love, and he wants to marry the spiritual and artsy Daiyu, his soul mate and a poor orphan girl who the family has taken in. The story culminates with Baoyu being tricked into marrying Baochai, while Daiyu is left to die of heartache (also known as tuberculosis). Disgusted with the greed and deceit that surrounds him, the novel ends with Baoyu renouncing the material world and taking on monk's robes. This tension between the demands of principle and idealism versus the demands of real world politick are at the heart of the mystery and its resolution. (view spoiler)[Chen does, of course, catch his murderer. Justice is done, but it also transpires that Chen's investigation has been part of a larger political game of which he was unaware. Bringing the murderer to justice has also meant victory for certain political interests, and defeat for others. In disgust, Chen contemplates quitting the police force, but ultimately changes his mind. It is this difference in response, his decision that "if you believe you can do something for your country, you should persevere. It helps a little if there are a few honest policemen around, even though it may not help much.", that marks this novel out from Cao Xueqin's own answer to the same problem. (hide spoiler)]The resolution of the crime is marked by a bitter aftertaste of reality, and Qiu's novel is an honest and telling depiction of the difficulties of living a principled but effective life in the real world rather than fulminating safely in the refuge of comforting fantasy. 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  • LJ
    2019-02-02 13:26

    First Sentence: The body was found at 4:40 p.m., on May 11, 1990, in Baili Canal, an out-of-the-way canal, about twenty miles to the west of Shanghai.Inspector Chen Cao is a poet, translator of Western literature, including mysteries, and newly assigned as head of the Special Case Squad. The naked body of a young woman has been found in a canal. The victim, Guan Hongying, had been recognized as a National Model Worker. As Chen and Detective Yu move forward in their investigation, their primary suspect is the son of a High Cadre, one of the highest designations for the old faithful members. Chen is determined to pursue the murder case but hadn’t counted on the bureaucrats stepping in to declare it political.This book worked for me for so many reasons. Set one year after Tiananmen Square, it is a fascinating look at a changing China caught between the old politics and the new interjecting information of China from ancient times to the time of the book’s setting. There was an incredibly strong sense of place showing us the lives of people at every social stratum, mainly within the city of Shanghai. The details of everyday life brought both the story and the characters into being. . The characters were so well developed, particularly Chen. Not having wanted to be a policeman there is the dichotomy of his wanting to do his job well but his love of poetry and pride when one of his poems is published. The inclusion of poetry throughout the story is so well done. But I also loved a scene where Chen went to buy a piece of jewelry for a girl friend using money he earned translating a Ruth Rendell mystery. He feels Rendell would have been pleased by his choice. The character is further enriched by the supporting characters of his partner, Yu, as you watch their relationship develop, and by others loyal to him. If I had to say there was a weak point to the story, it would probably be the plot. At the same time, I felt there had to be all the information surrounding it or, as Western reader, none of it would have made as much sense. For me, this debut book lays the foundation for the characters and the series. I will be very interested to see where Chen goes next. The book is on the longer side and a dense read but never was I tempted to put the book down. I highly recommend it. DEATH OF A RED HEROINE (Pol. Proc-Insp. Chen Cao-Shanghai, China-Cont) – VG+Xiaolong, Qiu – 1st in seriesSoho Press, 2000, US Hardcover – ISBN: 9781569471937

  • Louise
    2019-02-11 14:31

    2.5 StarsHow good did the blurb sound? A detective novel that takes place in Communist China! Unfortunately, and despite almost every other person I know enjoying it, I found this novel pretty underwhelming. Proof, I guess, of just how subjective reading can be. It’s not a ‘bad’ book, it had a lot of promise, and it picked up in the middle after a slow start. But in the end it just wasn’t for me and I can mainly pinpoint this to four things: way too much exposition and introspection on unimportant details, obvious clues going unnoticed for far too long, descriptions and portrayals of female characters that consistently skeeved me out, and a main character that was hard to feel anything for.So I guess I’ll start on the overabundance of exposition. The book is absolutely full of details about life in 90s Communist Shanghai. Which would be fascinating (and still is fascinating at times) if was slipped into the story with a bit more skill. As it is the author seems so concerned his audience won’t understand Chinese words or concepts that instead of simply letting them work out the meaning from the context he has to stop the story to explain them. Every, single, time. Which ends up creating a disjointed flow and making me feeling incredibly talked down to. I may not know a lot about communist China and I certainly want> to learn more but that doesn’t mean I want to be spoon-fed it like a baby. Despite all the information given about Shanghai here I never for one moment felt I had a grip of the city, like I could see it in my mind’s eye as I was reading. It felt like listening to someone who had been on holiday there talk about it (without photos), or sitting in on an informal evening lecture, rather than being transported there yourself.I mean, information is all very good, but sometimes you've just get on with the story. If I don’t understand some minor detail I’ll do the same thing I would do for a book set in Britain or the US (and I frequently don’t understand geographic or cultural references in books set in the USA); I’ll grab a dictionary or open Wikipedia, and look it up. China is not fantasyland where the author needs to explain concepts and show off their world-building – it’s a real place, the information is out there if people want to go looking for more detail. And frankly even if this was set in a fantasyland where I couldn’t look things up I would still find the infodumping poorly timed and overused. Yes, Communist China is very interesting, but either get better at integrating your information into the story or save the explanations for the stuff that matters.Maybe it’s a silly thing to moan about, the information on 90s China seems to be what most other reviews really loved about this book, but for me it mostly just spoilt the pacing. I just keep thinking that, if this had been written for a Chinese audience, with the assumption that the readers had a basic understanding of the setting, it would have been a much much stronger and better flowing novel (and it’s not as if relevant details couldn’t be put into notes at the end – translated fiction and old classics have endnotes for this sort of stuff all the time). As it is it’s too catered to ‘person who knows nothing about China’ and busy interrupting itself to explain the setting for it to actually get on with the story.And it has a similar problem when it comes to portraying politics, or human emotion in general for that matter. It’s almost didactic in places, we’re spoon-fed exactly what we’re meant to think of the Chinese Communist Party. Every time something happens Chen’s explanation of the ‘political reasons’ is never far away, even when it’s just repeating the same thing we’ve been informed 12millionty times before or when it’s so fucking obvious it’s not hard to work out for yourself (I’m thinking particularly here of the final chapter and a prominent ‘well duh!’ moment for me). Trust me to work a little out on my own please, I already spotted all the clues to the mystery chapters before your detective after all.Which brings me neatly onto my second objection: the mystery really wasn’t all that mysterious. A female body is found in a rural canal. Naked, strangled and wrapped in a plastic bag. A post-mortem reveals that she had sex shortly before her death, that her stomach contains caviar, and that her body shows no sign of a struggle. So what is the only hypothesis do the police originally draw from this? That she was raped and murdered by a random stranger. It takes about six more chapters for Chen to finally go ‘caviar! That’s expensive and well beyond her means. She must have eaten out with somebody!’ and when he does everybody is amazed by his deductive reasoning. The same deductive reasoning that told him earlier that ‘She could not have been romantically involved at the time of her death. There was no privacy possible in [her] dorm building’ – because apparently a couple is only allowed to have sex in the girl’s dormroom and meeting up elsewhere is totally out of the question! The list of overlooked clues could go on and on – but eventually they realise them and discover their suspect at around the halfway point. The rest of the book is mostly trying to prove that hedunit and working on discovering the motive against some half-hearted pressure to stop from higher up. In terms of a ‘murder mystery’ it’s rather lacking.What really irritated me though was the way the female characters were presented. In part this is of course deliberate – the investigation unearths an underworld of misogyny, 'western bourgeois decadence', sexual blackmail, and both sexual and emotional abuse. The killer’s attitude towards women is truly vile. I expect to be disgusted at that though, and I expect to be irritated by the way that women were viewed in communist China (and not just there) as primarily ‘wives’, ‘Party members’ or ‘wanton‘ (seriously, I should have done a tally for the amount of times the author used/misused the word 'wanton'). What I didn’t expect was to be so utterly skeeved out by the protagonists attitude towards women as well. Oh he’s not a vile abuser like the killer, obviously, not by any means. He doesn’t overtly sexualise and dehumanise women as nothing but objects – but he does that sickening overly romantic ‘poetic’ praise, 'women are gentle flowers' shit which is almost just as dehamanising and creepy. The way he describes women’s appearance in such flowery ways (often accompanied by a Chinese love poem that the woman reminds him of), or the way the author constantly feels the need to point out when a woman’s t-shirt is ‘tight’ or her blouse is ‘almost transparent’ or that her nipples are showing through the fabric. Stop it, stop it, stop it.The scene where Chen first meets his love interest is just terrible. He heroicly catches her as she trips over and the narration basically says that she ‘need not have been embarrassed’ because Chen found her attractive and didn’t mind the physical contact. Not only cliché but gross as well. Like, my embarrassment at tripping should be directly tied to whether the guy who helps me out finds me attractive? NO. Then there’s the scene where he realises the witness he’s about to interview is a prostitute, thinks about showing his ID card, but then decides he’ll have an exotic Japanese foot massage first. Yuck. Meanwhile his coworker Yu is out interviewing another potential witness and when she doesn’t want to speak to the police he falsely claims he has photos of her having sex and will release them to her employers. Again: yuck. Oh and then I’m meant to buy it when he is all outraged that her ex made exactly the same threats. I wouldn’t want eiher of these men as policemen.I think I’m meant to find Chen an intellectual romantic but I just can’t. Yes, society seems to have taken a collective shit on women in this book, but Chen’s analysis is often totally misogynistic as well, basically amounting to ‘if women aren't married with children their lives must be miserable’. In part it is just a reflection of the time, I can aknowledge that, and that would actually have been interesting to explore. But the way that Chen is so very obviously meant to be sympathetic and seems to be almost an author avatar at times (they’re both poets and members of the Chinese Writers’ Association) made his interactions with women super awkward. And quite frankly I just can’t fell comfortable with a character when the third-person limited perspective is so skeevey.Which, as I started off saying, all contributes to me not feeling very much in the way of interest in Chief Inspector Chen. He’s meant to be a bright young thing. An intellectual young police officer with a promising political career ahead and a private yearning for a ‘normal’ family life. Also everybody but everybody in the book thinks he’s awesome and freely tells everyone else how awesome and 'promising’ he is. But his constant poetical digressions slow an already slow book down and did nothing for me, and he seemed almost completely disinterested in the case (despite the narration frequently trying to convince me that it had taken over his life). And a disinterested detective makes for a disinterested reader. There’s no real urgency to solve the murder for most of the book, just endless descriptions about the changing structure of the communist party. And if the author and the main character can’t seem to bring themselves to care about the actual murder case the book is meant to be about, why should I?Having said all that – and I realise it’s a lot of negaive stuff, more so than I expected when I started this review – I’ll repeat again: it’s not a ‘bad’ book. Lots of people far more clever than I am think it’s a very good book, it just contains several elements that personally irritate and/or bore me. There was enough of a good idea here and, when the book finally picked up, enough good writing, that I’m not going to write Qiu Xiaolong off just yet. Perhaps a lot of what I disliked can be ascribed to first-novel-nerves and the concept, if not always the execution, was very interesting. I’m not exactly going to go hunting down the rest of this series or anything, but if I see one of them on the library shelf and I feel in the right mood I might just give it a go. Now that the setting's been established he might start focussing more on the story.2.5 stars from me – solidly in the middle. Didn’t particularly like it, didn’t really dislike it.

  • Joseph
    2019-02-16 13:26

    This is a book of two parts, completely separate and wonderfully woven together.The first part to the book is centred around Comrade Chief Inspector Chen Cao and his investigation of National Model Worker Guan Hongying, murdered and dumped in a canal. Set in the early '90s just after the infamous Tiananmen Square protests of '89 at a time of change for The Chinese Communist Party. Chen finds he is fighting not only to find the killer, but fighting against his peers and The Party.Strangely, the story was (for me at least) almost inconsequential. What grabbed me was the way the author captured life in Shanghai, from the mobile food vendors sardine-like housing to the sense of foreboding at saying doing the wrong thing in the eyes of The Party. I picked this as part of a A to Z author challenge and had never heard of him before. I now look forward to reading more of his work.

  • Maddy
    2019-02-15 10:28

    Death of a Red Heroine is an unusual and rather extraordinary book set in Shanghai, China, in the 1990s. A police officer and his friend are ostensibly patrolling the Suzhou River. In reality, they are meeting each other for the first time in 20 years and fishing off the boat. However, their reunion is marred by the discovery of a dead body. What transpires is an investigation that exposes us to the culture and societal norms of a place that is quite unknown to most people in the Western hemisphere.The case is assigned to Chief Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police Bureau. Chen is unusual in a few respects. First of all, he has been on the fast track in the department. Since he has been sponsored by an influential politician, he has risen in the ranks far more quickly than is normal and there is some resentment in the department because of that. In addition, Chen is an accomplished poet. His poems and those of other Chinese writers are scattered through the book, lending it a literary overlay that elevates a standard mystery.As the investigation proceeds, Chen painstakingly builds the case against the most likely suspect. However, he is unable to arrest the person in question because he is a High Cadre Child, the son of a person high in the political system. These people are basically untouchable due to their position in society. Chen’s very livelihood is threatened by his persistence in following through with the case. The victim also presents an interesting mass of contradictions. She was a woman by the name of Guan who was known as a National Model Worker, a poster girl for political correctness, an embodiment of the Party’s propaganda, a woman with no personal life and beyond reproach. But there is more to her than meets the eye. Throughout the book, Chen has to balance the need for finding the truth with the political needs of the Party.As the narrative unfolds, the reader is exposed to a way of life that Westerners would find most repressive. In what is a comical comment, many of the characters express that they have great freedom; after all, “it is the 90s”. The 90s of Shanghai are quite different from the 90s of the Western world. Individuals have very little freedom in their lives. Housing is assigned by work units based on an annual housing quota. Families of two or three generations are squeezed into one single room of 12 square meters. Many of these lifestyle events grew out of the Chairman Mao regime, when educated youths (Red Guards) were sent to the countryside to be reeducated by the lower and middle-poor peasants. Upon their release from the program, they were assigned to jobs not of their own choosing. In many cases, a husband and wife might work at locations that are hours apart from one another.The book was a masterful first effort with only a few flaws. The book proceeded at a very slow pace and tended toward redundancy. The inclusion of the poetry was overdone, and the language was at times awkward. Characterization is Xiaolong’s forte, along with establishing a strong sense of place. The scenes with his underling, Detective Yu, and his family bring the book alive.The most interesting aspect of the book in addition to the cultural details was the internal conflict of the lead character between what was right and what was required. Those who are successful in the regime put the Party and its needs above everything else, including personal morality. Chen struggles with the devastating possibility of losing his career or betraying his own integrity.The ending is a stunner. What feels like justice may very well be something else. An impressive debut, fascinating both in its setting and its characterization.

  • Tony
    2019-02-06 18:20

    DEATH OF A RED HEROINE. (2000). Qui Xiaolong. ****.This is a fine first novel by this Shanghai born American import. There is a mystery at the core of it. A young woman, one who has been declared a National Model Worker, is found in an isolated canal, naked in a large plastic garbage bag. Chief Inspector Chen of the Special Crimes Department of the Shanghai Police has taken on the job of solving the crime. He is advised by one of the old, retired members of the party that he should take note of the politics in the case. He doesn’t see the politics at first, but soon learns that there are powers in China that can do pretty much as they want. What this novel is really about is the political structure in China; the various levels of political influence that exist – especially the children of the political elite. Inspector Chen does an admirable job of ferreting out the information that he needs to solve this crime, while providing the reader with a history of Chinese classic poetry. Recommended.

  • Bruce
    2019-02-09 16:43

    Qiu Xiaolong is a novelist, translator, poet, and professor who has lived in St. Louis since 1988 when he came from China to the USA to study. Events in China prevented his returning there. He has written a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Chen Cao in Shanghai, of which this present volume was the first.The novel’s plot is standard for the genre—sex, blackmail, and murder—and the narrative is straightforward and entertaining if unremarkable. The author’s ear for dialogue is acute, and his descriptions of place and events, particularly those in an urban environment, are well drawn. The ending of the story leaves the door open for future novels in the series, which as mentioned above were subsequently written.For me, two aspects of the book stood out. First, the author provides a fascinating picture of social and political conditions in China in the early 1990’s. The power struggles within various interest groups of the Communist Party are presented, and the paramount importance of the Party in governance and social control is made very clear. The restrictions on opportunity of people both within and outside of the Party are highlighted repeatedly. It is hard for those of us living in a relatively open society fully to appreciate what life elsewhere might be like, and this is an enlightening insight into how societies can differ.The second element of particular interest is the author’s use of literature as a subtext within the narrative, clearly resulting from the author’s own personal interest and training. Inspector Chen is himself a translator and poet, fully trained in comparative literature before having been assigned by the state to a police job. I was vividly reminded here of P.D. James’ Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, and Qiu Xiaolong makes one elliptical reference to James’ work in the story. Also, like the author, Inspector Chen wrote his doctoral thesis on and translated the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and everywhere in the narrative are references to Eliot’s work, most often in reminiscences by Chen himself, sometimes in passages within the descriptive portions of the novel. Here is one of the more obvious examples:{“Good,” Ouyang said. “There’s a sidewalk restaurant just a few two blocks away [this, by the way, is the kind of syntactical stumble that Qiu Xiaolong often makes in the book, English obviously not being his primary language]. A small family business, but the food there is not too bad. The rain has ceased. So let us go then, you and I.”The evening was spreading out against the sky, Chen observed, as he followed Ouyang…}And here are the first couple of lines of Eliot’s own “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”:“Let us go then, you and I,When the evening is spread out against the sky…”Such allusions, while unquestionably entertaining, would be more effective and interesting if not so deliberately contrived. The author does include many quotations from Chinese poets both ancient and modern, and he is good about locating them historically within the appropriate dynasties.Anyway, I found the book of interest and enjoyed it. Whether I will continue reading in the series is something about which I am currently undecided.

  • Grace Tjan
    2019-01-29 11:36

    There is a lot to be liked in this debut novel, set in post-Tiananmen Shanghai, where people still cook in communal kitchens, personal phones (landlines!) are a rare privilege, and private enterprises are just beginning to sprout like bamboo shoots after a spring rain. Qiu Xiaolong, a Shanghai born-and-bred émigré, ably --- and at times evocatively --- captures the sights and sounds of his native city for a foreign audience, while sprinkling his narrative (originally written in English) with just enough tidbits of Tang/Song poetry and allusions to The Dream of The Red Chamber (one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature --- five if you count the much-maligned The Golden Lotus or Jin Pingmei --- and also the one that I never seem to be able to finish) to give authentic cultural touches to what is essentially pulp fiction. In this respect, he is similar to wuxia writers such as Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng who purposely embed nuggets of Chinese culture in their sprawling swordsman epics. As Qiu writes in English, he explains these allusions, but restrains himself so that they don't turn into clunky info dumps that clutter up the police procedural routine of the story. That said, the police procedural aspect is the weakest part of this novel. The mystery is hardly mysterious and Inspector Chen treats it almost like an afterthought, to be indulged in after he is done with his poetic, gastronomic and romantic pursuits. Likewise, Qiu seems to be much more interested in writing a social commentary about, among others, 'educated youths' during the Cultural Revolution, corruption among high-ranking cadres and urban communal housing, than a mystery. The resolution of the tepid murder 'mystery', as well as Inspector Chen's political problems, is extremely abrupt and seems to come from nowhere. Obviously, Qiu is trying to make a political point here, but it seems to be a pretty ham-fisted one. The main ingredients of this first novel ---Tang poetry, Chinese culture, both traditional and modern, social commentary on contemporary China, mystery, romance --- are interesting and hopefully Qiu will be able to make more of them in subsequent books.

  • Colleen
    2019-02-15 13:23

    This was recommended to me as a way of understanding the HCC (children of the high cadre communist party members) and the changes that have ocurred in modern China. It is a murder mystery set in Shanghai in the 1990s during Deng's capitalist reform. Incredibly interesting and well written. The main character, Inspector Chen is a poet (shades of PD James) and a man searching for justice. I'm hooked on this author now and understand there are more.

  • Book Concierge
    2019-02-05 14:33

    The naked body of a young woman is found in a remote canal. Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Special Case Squad, Homicide Division, Shanghai Police Bureau and his deputy, Detective Yu Guangming, discover that she is Guan Hongying, a national model worker. How could a young woman with such a responsible position have come to this end? Who might have killed her? Her coworkers and neighbors all swear that she had no boyfriend, that she lived a quiet, exemplary life, devoted to the Party and her work. Chen’s supervisors, Party Secretary Li and Commisar Zhang, insist this is a political case, but the detectives feel it must have been a personal crime. What a fascinating look at China in the nineties – a country moving into the future, affected by modern technology and Western influence, but with a cadre of political leaders who hold tight to the ideals of Communism. Or at least who give voice to those ideals. For, in reality, who you know is much more important than what you know. The children and friends of high-ranking officials get the plum positions, best apartments (or mansions), sleek cars and high-end consumer goods, while the masses struggle to raise their families on less-than-subsistence wages, queuing in ever-longer lines at state outlets or paying a premium to buy at “free” markets. Regardless, everyone must watch what s/he says and does, for anyone is subject to being charged with that most serious and nebulous of infractions: crime and corruption under Western bourgeois influence.I really liked how Qiu wrote these characters. The evolving relationship between Detective Yu and Chief Inspector Chen was particularly interesting. Working independently for much of the book, they still manage to come together as a team and to truly support one another. I loved how inventive they were in communicating sensitive information to one another without drawing further attention to their continued efforts. Some of the minor characters were a complete delight. Old Hunter, a retired police officer and Yu’s father, is now a volunteer neighborhood patroller, checking to make sure that private peddlers adhere to the socialist ideals in conducting their commercial transactions. Overseas Chinese Lu, Chen’s long-time friend, is an entrepreneur with a successful restaurant, Moscow Suburb. Little Zhao, a bureau driver, keeps his ear to the ground and passes along helpful gossip (or warnings) to Chen. Yu’s wife, Peiqin, is a valuable sounding board and go-between. Wang Feng, a reporter with the Wenhui Daily (one of China’s most influential papers), is a good friend, a valuable source of information, and a formidable ally. But it is Chief Inspector Chen who truly shines. Chen is a contrast: a man educated in literature, a published poet, and frequent translator of mysteries, but who is also a methodical investigator concerned only with bringing the perpetrator to justice. The reader gains increased insight into the complicated workings of the Chinese Party system as Chen is forced to consider politics and to find a way to work within and around the system. I loved the poetry he quoted and how seamlessly Qiu wove these couplets into the story, showing how a remembered passage might give Chen an idea for which direction to next take his investigation.The city of Shanghai is practically a character, the scenes are so vivid. Qiu describes the bustle of a major metropolitan area, the squalor of tenement living, the luxurious surroundings of a major hotel or old family mansion, and the quiet pleasure of a park. And the food – crab, dumplings, rice balls, perfectly ripe fruit, hot soups, fresh fish, succulent duck, and many delicacies unfamiliar to Westerners. I think even if I had never been to Shanghai I would have a clear picture in my head of the surroundings based on Qiu’s descriptive passages. The suspect / perpetrator is pretty clearly identified early on, but that’s not a problem here. It is not the kind of suspense/thriller/mystery that relies on secrets, violent altercations and dangerous situations. Rather, the joy of this novel is watching how Chen builds his case. I’ll definitely read more of this series.

  • Joyce Lagow
    2019-02-11 18:18

    A police procedural set in Shanghai in 1990, Death of a Red Heroine has a rather mundane and straightforward plot which normally would not be enough to fill 484 pages. BUT the value of this book, and the very justifiable reason for its length, is the way the author has interwoven everyday life in china at the time, Chinese politics, some history, a wonderful selection of Chinese poetry from the song and Tang dynasties, references to Chinese classics such as The Dream of the Red Chamber, and a terrific up-close view of Shanghai, where most of the action takes place. The protagonist, Chief Inspector Chen Cao, is an earnest rather young man for his position; it is through him, a poet as well as a policeman, that we are introduced to ancient poetic couplets.[return][return]Because of all the subtext, the book is really rich, a marvelous introduction to the post-Mao era in China, when the reforms of Deng Xiaoping which included a market rather than state economy, started a loosening of the rigid restrictions the Communist Party had imposed on everyday life. Through the characters, we get a good look at the damage done by the Cultural Revolution but also at the curious benefits it had as well not many, but they existed.[return][return]There are many more such revelations in the book, for which a murder plot is a good excuse. After reading it, I am very much interested in delving into Chinese history and poetry, which normally would not grab me at all.[return][return]The only drawback to the book is the writing style, which is very formal English in short, declarative sentences, for the most part. Intriguing is the lack of common contractions, for example.[return][return]However, that s a minor flaw the book reads well and is extraordinarily informative in an entertaining way. This is the first book in a series, and I intend to read further.[return][return]Highly recommended.

  • Blaine DeSantis
    2019-02-14 13:28

    A really fine debut effort by Qiu Xiaolong who I first heard of on an NPR broadcast. This is the first of his Inspector Chen detective novels set in Shanghai with this book taking place in 1990 one year after the Tienanman Square protests. The book is both a mystery as well as a look at the cultural conflicts that are going on between the old China and new China, as well as an in the background love story. Chen is the head of the Special Crimes Unit, as well as being a poet and literary intellectual and so you will see throughout this book likes of ancient poetry and stories of their meaning and how everything that Chen seems to do brings up images of the past. At 465 pages the book is at least 100 pages too long, which will keep some from reading it, and I noticed that the authors other books are definitely shorter. Qiu writes with the knowledge of one who grew up in China and is guiding his readers through both a mystery case, plus educating us on the Chinese mentality - something few of us understand (including our elected officials and bureaucrats!).The book also had a very special meaning for me as my father was part of one of the first US delegations every to visit China back in about 1980. He came home marveling at all bicycles on the streets, all the workers sweeping the streets with brooms and all the children in Beijing openly using the streets as their own septic system! I was fortunate to have visited China in 2013 and was just as amazed - but now I was amazed at all those cars and ring roads around Beijing some of which begin about 150 miles from the city. I was amazed at all the western influences there and how a introverted nation has made it to become a major Super Power. Oh, and I was amazed at all the children who still continue to use the streets as their own private bathroom for all their bodily functions. Old China vs New China - definitely change, but yet not all things have changed!

  • Sue
    2019-02-13 11:44

    A young “national model worker,” a famous woman who has been nationally lauded for her fealty to the Communist Party, turns up dead in a Shanghai canal. The pursuit of the murderer is only part of what happens in this slowly unfolding mystery. The greatest suspense concerns whether Inspector Chen will find himself in jeopardy if he uncovers a case which will be an embarrassment to the Party.China is changing to accept a market economy, but it is an uneasy time nevertheless. The story takes place soon after the uprising in Tiananmen Square, so brutally quelled before an international audience. Author Qui Xiaolong is intent upon portraying a generation deeply affected by the Cultural Revolution, but also intent upon depicting the privileged classes that the Communist Party has created. China's citizens are in uncharted waters, finding a narrow path between party dicta and personal principles. Qiu may be a little too concerned to make his point, and the prose is too often stiff. But this may be a first-time author problem, and I’ll make a point of reading more of the Inspector Chen series. (We all should do so well in a first novel.)I’m always reluctant to say much in a review about a mystery. It’s just too much fun to let it unfold, and I don’t want to mess with anyone’s anticipation. This was a vacation read, savored in a rocking chair while enjoying ocean breezes. It was pretty much perfect for the occasion. I had not the slightest problem turning the pages in pursuit of the villain who would dare to kill a “national model worker.” On the other hand, you’re probably not going to read this because of the case. The locale, the time, the characters, and the heavy burden of the Party are much more memorable.

  • Sadie Forsythe
    2019-02-15 11:45

    On finishing this book, I closed it feeling satisfied. This is generally all I ask of a book, but if I think back, I also remember that it took a good 200 pages for this book to get rolling and for me to really become interested and vested in it.Part of this is probably due to the fact that I only have a loose understanding of the events surrounding the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent Party politics that play an important part in this book. But it also just has a slow start, which isn't helped a lot by the rather dry tone Chinese literature always seems to have.In the end, however, what I liked so much about the book is that it's about good men trying, against almost impossible odds, to be good men. I don't mean John McClane type heroes, but ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.Chen, the main character is coming to terms with the fact that his life has not turned out the way he hoped. He shows a consistent moral mettle that is impossible not to respect. His partner, Yu, is a man who was given very few choices in life but his dedication to both his job, doing the right thing and his wife are heart melting. It was these men and their character that carried the day for me. I'm glad to have read the book.

  • Debra
    2019-02-03 14:43

    If you are looking for a suspenseful thriller, stop right here. This is not one of those, and it's a long book. We are looking at plodding detective work here; one small clue at a time. And we get great insight into the Chinese culture and politics during the 90's. I love historical fiction like this. It was a slow read, but well worth the ride.

  • Alfonso D'agostino
    2019-01-17 12:41

    Ho appena finito di leggere un giallo cinese.Ok, detta così fa un po’ ridere. Giallo, cinese.Mentirei se non descrivessi la tentazione come quasi irresistibile: pronto ad approdare in Estremo Oriente per il mio giro del mondo letterario (qui l’elenco di nazioni visitate), il gioco di parole veniva facile facile facile. E, ovviamente, non mi dispiaceva affatto l’idea di godermi un genere letterario molto mio con sfumature diverse da quelle europee od occidentali in genere.Da questo punto di vista, La misteriosa morte della compagna Guan non ha tradito le mie aspettative: pur essendo il prodotto di un emigrato (Qiu Xiaolong, da anni negli States, scrive in inglese), il romanzo offre delle peculiarità sufficientemente intriganti da condurre fino al termine delle sue 543 pagine.Prima fra tutte, il suo protagonista: Chen Cao è un poliziotto decisamente atipico, dedito alle indagini e alla poesia. La pubblicazione di un suo componimento su una popolare rivista a tiratura nazionale gli regala la stessa soddisfazione di un mistero risolto. Nel suo sviluppo, la narrazione si perde spesso in citazioni poetiche: un aspetto che stupisce nelle prime cento pagine, diviene atteso nelle successive duecento, rompe un po’ i maroni in quelle successive.La stessa trama, anche se caratterizzata da un omicidio torbido, si sviluppa con una certa lentezza asiatica: non aspettatevi un divenire contraddistinto da azione o colpi di scena. Siamo più vicini – al netto delle inevitabili e gigantesche differenze – a un Wallander con gli occhi a mandorla.E’ un buon modo per lanciare uno sguardo su un paese (enorme) alle prese con una serie di difficili convivenze: quella tra un sistema politico pervasivo e dittatoriale che cerca di conservare i suoi privilegi e le spinte moderniste della massa, insieme alla curiosa necessità di mediare tradizioni antichissime e prime pretese di contemporaneità. E’ questo, di gran lunga, l’aspetto più interessante del volume.---- ---

  • Bettie☯
    2019-01-21 16:17 Shanghai, May 1990. The body of a national model worker is found in Baili Canal. So begins the first of Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen novels. Poet and translator turned detective Chen Cao now heads the Special Case Squad, an assignment that brings political scrutiny with every move. Dramatised by Joy Wilkinson.Directed by Toby SwiftDramatisations of the second and third books in the Inspector Chen series, A Loyal Character Dance and When Red is Black, will follow.Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. As well as writing the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, he is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T'ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu's books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He lives in St. Louis, USA with his wife and daughter."Death Of A Red Heroine grabbed my imagination, took me on a slowly, intricately built journey that nevertheless felt sexy and slick, and kept me turning the pages deep into the night . . . A refreshingly brave exploration into political China, woven around a tense thriller..."Huffington Post.Chen Jamie ZubairiYu Dan LiPeiqin Sarah LamCommissar Zhang David YipWang Feng Chipo ChungParty Secretary Li Daniel YorkOld Hunter David HounslowWu Chris Pavlo

  • Sookie
    2019-01-21 10:41

    Amid nepotism, corruption, party politics, murder and hedonism, Xiaolong introduces the party's rising star Inspector Chen who often quotes poems from Tang dynasty and writes his own on the side.What starts off as a routine murder mystery slowly morphs to a study of 90s China, Shanghai specifically. Through the eyes of Chen readers view the cramped living spaces, common cooking area, crawling traffic, living situations of ordinary government workers, pride and adoration of a Chinese housewife and life in general. Xiaolong takes his time in unwinding the murder as he first opens the city to (non-Chinese) readers and gives a taste of Shanghai. In fact it becomes clear who the killer is somewhere in the middle of the book. Xiaolong shows no sense of urgency in solving the case as he moves his characters in a pace similar to what would have happened in the 90s. It makes the experience all the more fascinating as we struggle to move things ahead just like Inspector Chen and his assistant Yu. The novel is set couple of years after the infamous Tiananmen Square protests which shows an evolving China. The narration begins right when the changes are set to motion and the officials are trying to deal with repercussions of decisions made in previous few decades.This isn't a book that's meant to be read in one sitting. The liberal use of old Chinese poetry draws parallels to the narration and makes the atmosphere heavy. The words linger for several pages, just like Jasmine tea that many of these characters seem to enjoy.

  • Laura
    2019-01-18 14:21

    From BBC Radio 4 - Drama:Shanghai, May 1990. The body of a national model worker is found in Baili Canal. So begins the first of Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen novels. Poet and translator turned detective Chen Cao now heads the Special Case Squad, an assignment that brings political scrutiny with every move. Dramatised by Joy Wilkinson.Directed by Toby SwiftDramatisations of the second and third books in the Inspector Chen series, A Loyal Character Dance and When Red is Black, will follow.Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, China. As well as writing the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, he is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and Evoking T'ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu's books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He lives in St. Louis, USA with his wife and daughter."Death Of A Red Heroine grabbed my imagination, took me on a slowly, intricately built journey that nevertheless felt sexy and slick, and kept me turning the pages deep into the night . . . A refreshingly brave exploration into political China, woven around a tense thriller..."Huffington Post.

  • Ali
    2019-02-05 18:23

    I have had a busy week and so haven't had as much reading time as I wanted, and I was always anxious to get back to this novel. It is probably more about everyday life and politics in Shanghai in the recent past of the early '90's than it is a detective story, although the two are inextricably linked and the plot is certainly a good one. I must say I realised how horribly ignorant of recent (and not so recent) Chinese history I was. I knew about Mao and communism and that was about it really. I hadn't heard about the model workers, or the educated youths who were made to go and live in the country untill recalled to their cities. I knew of course how dominated by party and state the people of China have been in the past, but somehow always thought of it as being longer ago than 1990. I knew about the housing problems - but Qiu Xiaolong describes the rooms and tiny apartments that his characters live in so well, that I could just imagine the awfully cramped homes. Qiu has blended poetry with a political urban story, as the main character is a poet as well as a policeman. I loved the snippets of the poetry. My favourite bit:Deep as the Peach blossom Lake can be, It is not so deep as the song you sing for meThe city of Shanghai has been brought ot life for me, in a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I have added more of this authors novels to my wishlist.

  • Laurie
    2019-01-30 17:21

    A new-to-me author with a very thoughtful mystery. I enjoyed learning quite a bit about culture in modern (set in 1990) Shanghai, China. It is clear without reading the author's biography that he is quite knowledgeable of Chinese poetry as the main character, Chief Inspector Chen, is a modernist poet in addition to being a police officer and poetry is quoted rather frequently throughout the novel. It is an interesting addition to the usual police procedural type of mystery.

  • Leonard
    2019-01-24 10:20

    An enjoyable mystery, though the info dump throughout the book slowed the book's pace. There wasn't much twists and turns so we have a hint of the killer before the first half of the book. The political maneuvering adds some drama.

  • Leslie
    2019-02-01 16:33

    The mystery is good but the main appeal of this police procedural is seeing something of life in Shanghai China in 1990 for mid-level people. Chen & his poetry reminds me a bit of P.D. James’ Dalgliesh...

  • Steve
    2019-01-27 12:27

    A fine investigation led by Shanghai Chief Inspector Chen Cao in around 1990. The first in this series, we find Chen, a poet and man of letters in literature, has been told by the Chinese regime that he is to be head of a police unit, surely not the career he envisioned for himself, but he sets about doing it with great personal integrity and effort, with the help of officer Lu, who, at the beginning, has some reservations about Chen.A young woman's body is found, and Chen and Lu take up the investigation, first having to find out who the victim was, then working toward suspects, motives, opportunity, and such. The victim lived as an exemplary citizen of the Chinese regime, and kept to herself a lot, making things a challenge. Given the setting, soon politics and the Big Brother-like security system in China becomes involved, making Chen's efforts more complicated, full of gesellschaft – obligations to a society. With good support characters, especially including two women in the single Chief's life, and members of Lu's family, Chen perseveres. This is a strong investigation story in its own right, but to earn a fifth star takes something special for me. In this case, the poetry and Chen's thoughtfulness, the setting and intrusion of government and politics, and the feeling as a reader that the author has written in a way that respects my intelligence are way more than enough. I finished this one and did something I very rarely do, immediately sought the next book in the series.

  • Karen
    2019-01-31 14:20

    To my mind, the very best crime fiction in the world provides a window into the world in which it is set. Be that the psyche of the people, the machinations of the society, how a community is structured and operates, the laws and mores, even the way in which authorities deal with the disorder, how they implement authority. DEATH OF A RED HEROINE is set in Shanghai in 1990, a year after Tiananmen Square, an ancient city with a population tightly controlled by the Communist Party. Poet Chen Cao is an unlikely policeman, forced into the job by the party system, he's caught between a love of poetry and his own innate sense of responsibility. A loner, a romantic soul, he heads a special unit which is given the task of investigating the brutal murder of Guam Hongying. A National Model Worker, the death of Hongying is viewed as much a political situation as it is a crime.DEATH OF A RED HEROINE is a very intricate book, exploring many aspects of the society in which the action takes place. Firstly the character of Inspector Chen Cao, a maverick (as much as you can be under totalitarian control), he's a poet, a loner, a romantic soul forced into the life of a policeman. Enjoying the very small privileges that come with rank, he's also uncomfortable with their existence. He's more fortunate in his friendships - both with long-term friends and with his colleagues. The second aspect of the book that is carefully explored is the victim herself. Her status as a National Model Worker means that her death hits the desks, and the minds of the upper echelons of the Communist Party. Her treatment, in death, as it was in life, is slightly different. The way that her status, and her life was regarded is a particularly interesting aspect of this book, as it leads to the final component of the book worth mentioning - Chinese Society in its own right. Possibly the strongest aspect of the book, because the culture and political system of the society imposes itself over every aspect of it's people's lives. From the way that the investigation is regarded, to the way that Hongying and Chen Coa lead their lives, every move everybody makes is somehow choreographed by the ever present "Party" and its cadres. The parts of the book that don't work quite as well are the plot, and some of the messages that the author is attempting to impart. Second part first - there is some rather heavy-handed repetition of the ills of Communist China. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the messages being delivered, constant repetition doesn't help. The first part - the plot - well got more than a bit hazy at times. Sometimes this was because we'd wandered so far from the central point of the book memory faded, at other points it was simply because plot points sort of got "dumped" into the narrative. Either way, it's not the most complex or unexpected resolution to the death of an attractive young woman.It also isn't on the fast, tense, light read side of the scale. This is a book which will require a bit of concentration, some acceptance that as with many debuts, there's a bit of work going on to establish a character and his place in the world. But as a lead into a new series, this book has ticked yes to a lot of questions. This is undoubtedly a series that I want to catch up with. In a hurry.

  • Kristine Brancolini
    2019-02-16 13:16

    Lately, I seem to be obsessed with international mysteries, especially the kind that address social, historical, and cultural issues in addition to murder and/or mayhem. Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen Cao series definitely falls into this category. I don't know why I hadn't run across it before now. The series was recommended to me by a colleague who has lived in Shanghai. Qiu left China in 1989. He now lives in the U.S. and writes in English, which is a plus. Oh, and he's a poet. An added bonus, because Inspector Chen is also a poet, assigned to be a police officer after he graduated from college in the early 1980s. Death of a Red Heroine is set in 1990, so the events of Tiananmen Square loom large. Inspector Chen is a Party favorite who has just been promoted to Chief Inspector despite his relative lack of experience. He has also been assigned his own apartment, while his partner, Detective Yu, has a wife and a child live in one room in his father's house. They have been on the waiting list for an apartment for years. So how did this happen? Unsurprisingly, we soon learn that Chen Cao has advocates in high places. The Red Heroine of the title is a darling of another sort. She is an employee of the Shanghai First Department Store who is also a National Model Worker. Soon after the book opens the body of Guan Hongying is found naked in a black plastic garbage bag in a remote canal. Inspector Chen's Special Case Squad takes over the homicide investigation due to the politically-sensitive nature of the crime. But as the identify of the probable murderer emerges, Inspector Chen's status cannot protect him from the negative fallout. Almost overnight he goes from high flyer to pariah -- spiraling down, down. Others have written eloquently about this book, so suffice to say, Qiu Xiaolong deserved the numerous awards he won for this, his first novel. It is an impressive debut, filled with Chinese politics and literature -- including actual Chinese classical poetry and Chen's (Qiu's) own work. The 18th century novel Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin figures prominently in the novel, quoted liberally by Inspector Chen. Red Heroine also features descriptions of exotic food and fascinating secondary characters. Although his relationship with Detective Yu begins on shaky ground due to Chen's favored status, the two of them bond over the investigation and develop that best kind of complementary partnership. Shanghai is also a character in the book and Qiu evokes it beautifully. Finally, the book is a tightly-plotted murder mystery that builds in suspense right up to the end. I just started Book 2 in the series and so far, it lives up to my admittedly high expectations of Qiu Xiaolong's work.

  • Nick
    2019-02-05 15:15

    I stumbled into this series with Don't Cry, Tai Lake (2012), just in time for a ten-day trip to China. This first entry in the series was perfect as I navigated my way through the complex social, economic, and political environment of contemporary China. Like any good detective protagonist. Detective Chen is smart, intuitive, and a bit idealistic in both his professional and personal life, which unfolds in 90's Shanghai, as the opening to the West under Deng Xiouping is beginning to change a country that is still recovering from Mao's disruptive policies, as well as the repression represented by the Tiananmen Square massacre. Chen is a rising 'cadre' in the party, so much so that he heads a small but important unit of the Shanghai policy set up to handle "special" cases, meaning those that could have political impact on the Communist regime. Like this one, a brutal rape-murder of a 'model worker' who turns out to have a secret life involving the son of a so-called 'high cadre,' still a privileged sect even as reforms are kicking in. Fascinating, well-written, and psychologically insightful.

  • DomoKete
    2019-01-20 12:35

    Chief Inspector Chen Cao investigates the death of a model worker in Shanghai, China. To do so he navigates Party politics, social inequality and his own internal doubts. In the end he must take personal risks to bring the case to a close.Inspector Chen is a party member and a ranked police official. He is also a poet and a translator of western literature. The conflict between these worlds is present throughout the novel. There are quotes from ancient poems and references to the Chinese classic, The Dream of a Red Chamber. These quotes tie Chen's artistic side to the other characters and events in the story. A strong theme is the reconciling of public face against private worlds. One such theme is the double standards of sexuality in society. Another is politics driven by image not substance. The role of "favours" and corruption are central to the plot.The novel is a vivid portrayal of Shanghai and its people across the lower, middle and upper classes. It shows the inequality exposed by China's transition to a market economy in the 1990s. The book also depicts the influence of social conformity on everyday life. The mystery itself is basic, this is more a story about modern China.

  • Louise
    2019-02-10 12:21

    The time and place of the Inspector Chen books are great. It's refreshing to read about the intricacies and complaints about other governments. It was interesting to read about the lives of normal people in Shanghai during the 80s and 90s. In some ways, it made me miss my hometown but in other ways, I'm glad my parents immigrated when they did.As far as the mystery goes, it's not all that great and nothing comes as a surprise. The book plodded on in some parts and I couldn't really appreciate the many, many sections of poetry as well as I could appreciate all the parts about food and tea.

  • Therese
    2019-01-16 16:17

    Choice of Partners in Crime bookclub. Fairly typical detective solving a murder; however, this is set in Shanghai, China. You become immersed in the politics and lifestyle, which I found fascinating. It could have easily been half the length (464 pages). I found myself bored at times, just wanting to get to the end. My favorite aspect was the preparation and eating of the food mentioned throughout the book!