In Brian Klingborg's Thief of Souls, the brutal murder of a young woman in a rural village in Northern China sends shockwaves all the way to Beijing—but seemingly only Inspector Lu Fei, living in exile in the small town, is interested in justice for the victim.
Lu Fei is a graduate of China’s top police college but he’s been assigned to a sleepy backwater town in northern China, where almost nothing happens and the theft of a few chickens represents a major crime wave. That is until a young woman is found dead, her organs removed, and joss paper stuffed in her mouth. The CID in Beijing—headed by a rising political star—is on the case but in an increasingly authoritarian China, prosperity and political stability are far more important than solving the murder of an insignificant village girl. As such, the CID head is interested in pinning the crime on the first available suspect rather than wading into uncomfortable truths, leaving Lu Fei on his own.
As Lu digs deeper into the gruesome murder, he finds himself facing old enemies and creating new ones in the form of local Communist Party bosses and corrupt business interests. Despite these rising obstacles, Lu remains determined to find the real killer, especially after he links the murder to other unsolved homicides. But the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he puts himself and his loved ones in danger.
A falling-out with a superior in Harbin City, China, results in Insp. Lu Fei, the hero of Klingborg's middling debut and series launch, getting transferred to the quiet township of Raven Valley, where he serves as the deputy chief of police. Lu's job demands little of him, until the body of 23-year-old Yang Fenfang, who worked in a Harbin bar and was living with her dying mother in Raven Valley, is found in her mother's house "hollowed out like a birchbark canoe." Yang's ex-boyfriend, a slow-witted butcher who flees the police interrogation, becomes the prime suspect, despite Lu's reservations. Those doubts are vindicated when he learns of two unsolved murders with the same m.o. Passages explaining how recent Chinese history, including the Cultural Revolution, have affected Lu's family compensate only in part for an underdeveloped lead and the superficial presentation of the country's politics and tensions. This by-the-numbers thriller falls short of the standard set by such other serial murderer novels set in repressive regimes as Harald Gilbers's Germania: A Novel of Nazi Berlin. A confident style suggests Klingborg can do better.
Interesting and well done mystery.
This is a different type who done it and I enjoyed the whole experience. The distinctive difference in cultures is evident throughout, although much is the same as the “west”. Here we have a serial killer with a twist. The oriental view of the police and life in general is entertaining and intense. Enjoy this puzzle.