The Mao Case: An Inspector Chen Novel Hardcover – Mar 3 2009
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Inspector Chen is on the trail of some Mao materials that mighty prove embarrassing to the Party. Three beautiful women, dead and alive, stand between Chen and the solution.
A handsome intellectual with Confucian ethics, Chen has a princely quality that makes him good company in every adventure. When stalled, he ponders snippets of haunting poetry that sometimes prove oddly useful in solving the case.
Some might say there are too many contrivances and coincidences in the plotting of this book, but I'm so enamored of Qiu Xiaolong's writing, I looked the other way.
I recommend reading the whole series, starting with Death of a Red Heroine, to get the full flavor of Chen's character. Every book in the series is delightful.
Chen begins with the mother whose life was explored in a bestseller. Using Cloud and Rain as access, Chen goes undercover pretending to be an author conducting research into a historical novel. This enables him to meet Jiao and her friends at the still alive Xie's run down home. There the older woman hosts a group who cherishes the pre-Communist culture until murder leave Chen suspecting grandmother and or granddaughter as the killer(s) especially their shared convenient alibi.
The sixth Chen Chinese police procedural (see WHEN RED IS BLACK and RED MANDARIN DRESS) contains a strong investigation, but it is the profound look at the early Mao days in comparison to modern day China that brings the uniqueness to the story line. Chen is at his best with his asides about brass, bureaucrats, and bull as he diligently works the "Mao material" inquiry that turns into a homicide; he is more comfortable with the latter as the former is loaded with pompous interference. Mindful of the Bush Administration concealing Korean War Era documents that have been declassified for years and open to the public in the government archives, fans of the Shanghai inspector will enjoy his latest case as a reluctant Chen knows the penalty of dealing with anything Maoist even decades old.
Once again the party calls on the Chief Inspector to solve a politically sensitive case. It appears that some artifact or other valuable document may have been given by Mao to a Shanghai actress who probably was one of his many mistresses. The item was never found, but is suspected to be in the possession of the woman's granddaughter. It is not known whether its discovery would prove embarrassing to the Party of Mao, and Internal Security is chomping at the bit to apply hard tactics to find it.
Chen, on the other hand, goes about the task like the cop he is, not to mention his other talents as a poet and professional writer, checking and quoting poems and literature in an effort to reach a satisfactory conclusion to what he dubs "the Mao Case." Each Chen mystery is a delight to read, filled with all sorts of charming quotations, proverbs and bits of Chinese culture and history. The present novel is no exception, and it is highly recommended.
Nicely written, and the Mao poetry was also translated into English and deciphered nicely too. But although the author's English is good enough to write a very readable book (few can do that in a second language), I can't help thinking he'd increase the reader's pleasure with a professional poetic/literary minded sub-editor. There were some golden chances missed to turn parts of the narrative into much nicer, smoother, indeed even memorable reads. But then I'd notice that as a sub.
I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it. Why only 3 stars? In the end 5 stars are reserved for the likes of Murakami (the two best known of course), Xiaolu Guo, Ma Jian, Yiyun Li and the like. Let's face it, they write weighty literature in a matching form.
But there's no doubt I'll be reading more Inspector Chen as well!