Book Review: Red Mandarin Dress, Qiu Xiaolong

Book Review: Red Mandarin Dress, Inspector Chen Book 5, Qiu Xiaolong


Red Mandarin Dress, Qiu Xiaolong

Mystery: Red Mandarin Dress, Inspector Chen Book 5, Qiu Xiaolong


Inspector Chen is often assigned politically sensitive cases. In communist China, those cases can make or break careers, depending less on the arrest of the criminal and more on the inspector’s ability to protect the interests of the communist party. So when a very politically sensitive case involving a party official comes across his desk, he does the most intelligent thing a person in his position can do.


He takes a leave of absence.


This does not mean he is not working, though. He continues to advise his aide on the resolution–and the political pitfalls–of the case. He also begins working on a case involving young women being murdered, then their bodies being posed in Shanghai wearing the same type of red dress. Shanghai is not particularly known for its violent crime, let alone a serial killer, so this case not only grabs headlines, it also grabs the attention of the party. In other words, it also becomes a politically sensitive case, and Inspector Chen is in the middle of party politics again.


As an American reader with a long fascination but no personal knowledge of China, I love the hard work Qiu Xiaolong does in describing the tastes, smells, and culture of Shanghai. His characters are fascinating, his plots are complex and intriguing, but it’s his settings that bring everything else to life. Some mystery novels could take place almost anywhere in the world. Change a few details and your detective could be with a big city department in the US, in Europe, or in much of Asia. Qiu has successfully embedded his character in his own birth-city of Shanghai, to the point where I am not sure the character would be at all the same even if he were in another city in China. We Americans as a nation are woefully ignorant of the diverse regions, ethnicities, cultures, and foods that have come together in this (now or soon-to-be) second most populous country in the world.


Despite my longing to travel, I suspect I will not have the opportunity to see Shanghai. But the beauty of well-written stories is that I can go there in my mind. I can see the narrow streets, the distinctive architecture, the crowded buildings. I can smell the food and the sweat of millions of bodies. I can enjoy the journey to a place I likely will never see with my own eyes, thanks to the vivid descriptions in this amazing series of books.


Red Mandarin Dress, Qiu Xiaolong

Book Review: Red Mandarin Dress, Inspector Chen Book 5, Qiu Xiaolong

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