Set a decade ago in Shanghai
, this political mystery offers a peek into the tightly sealed, often crooked world of post- Tiananmen Square China
. Chen Cao, a poet and T.S. Eliot translator bureaucratically assigned to be chief inspector, has to investigate the murder of Guan Hongying, a young woman celebrated as a National Model Worker, but who kept her personal life strictly and mysteriously confidential. Chen and his comrade, Detective Yu, take turns interviewing Guan's neighbors and co-workers, but it seems most of them either know nothing or are afraid to talk openly about a deceased, highly regarded public figure. Maybe they shouldn't be so uneasy, some characters reason; after all, these are "modern times" and socialist China is taking great leaps toward free speech. Chen and Yu make headway when they stumble on Wu Xiaoming, senior editor of Red Star magazine, who apparently was involved with Guan before her death. Tiptoeing around touchy politics and using investigative tactics bordering on blackmail, Chen slowly pieces together the motives behind the crime. The author, himself a poet and critic, peppers the story with allusions to classical Chinese literature, juxtaposing poignant poetry with a gruesome murder so that the novel reads like the translation of an ancient text imposed over a modern tale of intrigue. This is an impressive and welcome respite from the typical crime novel.
About the Author
is an English language poet, literary translator, crime novelist, critic, and academic, currently living in St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Wang Lijun and daughter Julia Qiu. He originally visited the United States in 1988 to write a book about T. S. Eliot, but following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 a newspaper reported on his previous fundraising efforts for Chinese students, and he was forced to remain in America to avoid persecution by the Communist Party of China.
He has published six crime-thriller/mystery novels set in Shanghai in the 1990s at the point when the People's Republic of China is making momentous changes. These include Death of a Red Heroine, which won the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001, and A Loyal Character Dancer. All books feature Chief Inspector Chen Cao, a poetry-quoting cop with integrity. But the main concern in the books is modern China itself. Each book features quotes from ancient and modern poets, Confucius, insights into Chinese cuisine, architecture, history, politics, herbology and philosophy as well as criminal procedure.
He does not allow his books to be published in China (as of 2011), but they are published in Hong Kong.