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What happened to the last few pages?
on 22 March 2017
I have read and enjoyed the China series, and I thought that this last one, Chinese Whispers, was promising. The MERMER experiment was both intriguing and challenging, and worked well as the focus of the plot. But, really, that's about the sum of the wholehearted praise. The most disappointing part (out of quite a few) was the ending, and I found it hard to believe that the book finished where it did, with Li and Margaret in mid-conversation, no resolution in sight for their personal predicament, no comforting reassurance that Li's clever detective work would result in immediate restitution to his post. Then I realised that there is a novella due out at the end of the month, and a cynical voice suggested that leaving a six-book series unresolved at the end of the sixth book is a great way of making readers buy the follow-up novella.
Well, mine's on order, and I shall look forward to it, but that doesn't really excuse the weakness of the conclusion of Chinese Whispers. And I had other problems with this one; for example, the grafting-on of the Ripper plot and yet another slavering description of some of the pathetic, brutalised bodies of the original victims. And, for sure, we've had Ripper copycat murders many times before, although maybe not in Beijing; as another reviewer said, the change of setting doesn't really add anything. Perhaps it's because this is in essence a very old story with a new spin, but I didn't find much in the way of drive in this plot, and found myself struggling to finish (especially as I'd worked out who had to be the killer quite early on). After six books I'm weary of the endless descriptions of Beijing's buildings and architecture, smog and traffic, and I still can't differentiate between Li's police colleagues (although I love the pancake selling woman and her riddles). Margaret is okay, but I don't find her very believable.
There's no motive behind the killings. We know by the end who did them, we know something of his past, but surely, if a man changes into a killing machine in his teens, or whenever it was, it might be good to have at least a nod in the direction of a reason? The enduring fascination of the Ripper murders is that no-one really knows who carried them out, which leaves the door wide open for all sorts of speculation, including Patricia Cornwell's daft theory about Walter Sickert. It's this speculation that keeps us intrigued, and here, in Chinese Whispers, Peter May provided himself with the most wonderful platform for delving into the character of his killer, making up some extraordinary, life-changing, psyche-distorting events when he was a young man (we're talking the Cultural Revolution here, for God's sake, so there's endless scope) and really going to town on it all. It's a gift to a writer of his calibre, and what does he do? He dodges the challenge and walks away. What a shame.
I'm going to submit this now before I think about it any more and decide to change three stars to two.