17 December 2014

Review: ENIGMA OF CHINA, Qiu Xiaolong

  • published 2013  by St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN 978-1-250-02580-7
  • 277 pages
  • #8 in the Inspector Chen series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (MacMillan)

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is in an unusual situation—a poet by training and inclination, he was assigned by the party to the Police Department after he graduated college, where he has continued to shine.  Now he’s a rising cadre in the party, in line to take over the top politic position in the police department, while being one of most respected policeman in the department. Which is why he’s brought in by the Party to sign off on the investigation into the death of Zhou Keng. 

Zhou Keng—a trusted princeling, son of a major party member—was head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee when a number of his corrupt practices were exposed on the internet.  Removed from his position and placed into extra-legal detention, Zhou apparently hanged himself while under guard.  While the Party is anxious to have Zhou’s death declared a suicide, and for the renowned Chief Inspector Chen to sign off on that conclusion, the sequence of events don’t quite add up. Now Chen will have to decide what to do – investigate the death as a possible homicide and risk angering unseen powerful people, or seek the justice that his position requires him to strive for.

My Take

ENIGMA OF CHINA is not just a murder mystery, but also an exploration of Chinese history and culture. It also explores the role, even in China, of social media, of crowd-sourced investigation, so-called "human-flesh" searches, triggered in this case by the release of a photograph of Zhou Keng with a pack of very expensive brand cigarettes sitting on the table in front of him. The irony does not escape Chief Inspector Chen who has also accepted gifts in kind from Big Bucks customers.

But in Zhou's case a number of other examples of corruption have been unearthed, including a batch of compromising sex photographs. But it still doesn't seem very likely that he would have committed suicide. Chen's curiosity is further piqued when a police colleague is run down and killed outside the Party newspaper headquarters. Chen realises that he could very well share Wei's fate if he doesn't tread carefully.

Xiaolong paints a fascinating picture of life in Shanghai with vast economic and social gulfs between ordinary people and those who have access to privelege.

My rating: 4.5

I've also reviewed 4.4, DEATH OF A RED HEROINE which won the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001.

About the author:
Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai and, since 1988, has lived in St. Louis, Missouri. A poet and a translator, he has an MA and a Ph.D. from Washington University. He is the author of several previous novels featuring Inspector Chen, including the award-winning Death of a Red Heroine and A Case of Two Cities.

This is my final title for the 2014 A-Z Mystery Challenge

1 comment:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Glad you enjoyed this. I thought it was also a fascinating depiction of the way the Internet can work and can be seen as a threat to entrenched people.

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