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"A man, once bitten by a snake, will be nervous all his life at the shadow of a straw rope.",
This review is from: Death of a Red Heroine: Inspector Chen 1 (Inspector Chen Cao) (Paperback)
Chinese poet, translator, and fiction writer Qiu Xiaolong has created in Inspector Chen of Shanghai, a kind of alterego, a poet who is also a policeman of impeccable honesty, a man who must walk the fine line between obeying the sometimes expedient desires of Party officials or doing what he sees as "right" in broader, less political terms. The hero of a series of six mysteries, Inspector Chen recognizes that his own privileges, including a private apartment, may be taken away instantly if he offends those of high rank. In this first novel of the series, Inspector Chen and his assistant Yu investigate the murder of a "Red Heroine," a young woman who has achieved the status of a national model because she has worked so diligently at the biggest department store in Shanghai for ten years.
It is the early 1990s, and the victim, Guan, has been found dead, miles from Shanghai. Frequently mentioned in national newspapers, Guan has also been featured on TV, and the higher-ups in the party are determined to suppress news of her murder. Before long, Chen and his men have identified a suspect - an HCC, a "high cadre's child," the son of an important party official - the Shanghai Minister of Propaganda. Accorded many privileges granted purely on the basis of his parents' achievements, the suspect, Wu Xiaoming, works as a photographer for Red Star but is already being considered for a prestigious new position.
As the various characters are introduced, the author also reveals aspects of the Chinese political milieu and the limitations it presents for Chen and his future. Walking a tight line, Chen exercises discretion, while also pursuing the case. A true believer in the goals of the Party, Chen resents the tendency of some officials to put political expediency ahead of the ideals of the revolution. Author Qiu succeeds, however, in creating human portraits of many officials, some of whom believe that what they are doing is "right," even when their efforts appear to be patently self-protective.
This unusual mystery provides much information about the political system in China, while also creating situations in which the reader is as stymied as Chen about how to he can accomplish the "true" goals of the country, while working for Party officials with their own agendas. Because the author must explain much about Chinese daily life, significant parts of this novel "tell about" what is happening instead of showing what is going on through action, and there are a number of digressions. Students of literature, however, will be fascinated by the many quotations from Chinese and English poetry which illustrate the point of view and mindset of Inspector Chen. A complex and thoughtful novel which teaches at the same time that it entertains, Death of a Red Heroine is a fine introduction to this series, sure to entice many readers into reading more about contemporary China through the further investigations of Inspector Chen.