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Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is often put in charge of politically sensitive cases. Having recently ruffled more than a few official feathers, when he is asked to look into a sensitive corruption case he takes immediate action - he goes on leave from work. But while on vacation, the body of a murdered young woman is found in a highly trafficked area and the only notable aspect is that she was redressed in a red mandarin dress. When a second body appears, this time in the People's Park, also in precisely the same kind of red mandarin dress, the newspapers start screaming that Shanghai is being stalked by its first sexual serial killer. With the Party anxious to resolve the murders quickly, Chen finds himself in the midst of his most potentially dangerous and sensitive case to date.
Bringing 1990s Communist China alive, Qiu's masterful fifth Inspector Chen mystery (after 2006's A Case of Two Cities) finds Shanghai terrorized by its first-ever serial killer. The murderer dresses his victims' corpses in fancy red mandarin dresses before leaving them in public places. Insp. Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department has taken a step back from his professional life to pursue an advanced literature course instead of investigating a politically sensitive corruption case, but now he must return to active duty and help in the manhunt. He learns that the symbolic garb may be connected to the corruption scandal, but not before a young female officer falls prey. The solution may strike some as a little pat, but the first-rate characterizations and elegant portrait of a society attempting to move from rigid Maoist ideologies to an accommodation with capitalism will keep readers engaged and eager for more.