The second book in the Inspector Chen investigations
Inspector Chen’s mentor in the Shanghai Police Bureau has assigned him to escort US Marshal Catherine Rohn. Her mission is to bring Wen, the wife of a witness in an important criminal trial, to the United States. Inspector Rohn is already en route when Chen learns that Wen has unaccountably vanished from her village in Fujian. Or is this just what he is supposed to believe? Chen resents his role; he would rather investigate the triad killing in Shanghai’s beautiful Bund Park. Li insists that saving face with Inspector Rohn takes priority. So Chen Cao, the ambitious son of a father who imbued him with Confucian precepts, must tread warily as he tries once again to be a good cop, a good man and also a loyal Party member.
Anthony Prize winner Qiu's second Inspector Chen mystery (after 2000's Death of a Red Heroine)offers an intriguing if somewhat labored glimpse of Chinese life in a period of evolution from communism to a more westernized culture. Former dancer and party loyalist Wen Liping has vanished just when she was to leave for the U.S. to join her husband, a key witness against a smuggling ring suspected of importing aliens to America. The same day higher authorities refer this case to Chen, who is a likable senior police agent with a love of literature, a badly mutilated body turns up in Shanghai's Bund Park. It takes many pages and train trips around China for Chen, in the company of visiting U.S. Marshal Catherine Rohn, before the two cases are finally linked, but the wait is worth it. Punctuated by proverbs from Confucius and ancient and modern Chinese poetry, Chen's reports show how he and Catherine gradually learn of Wen's unhappy past being programmed as a child to dance holding a "Loyalty" placard for Mao's Red Guards, later suffering brutal abuse by her husband. The more unsavory elements of modern Chinese society are revealed, from prostitution houses masking as karaoke clubs to vicious rival triads battling for turf, while materialism at its worst overcomes traditional values. Qiu's writing style can be somewhat stilted, and dialogue occasionally resembles "partyspeak," but the characters manage to achieve an engaging realism and charm, even while showing the underside of China in transition.