Book Review: Enigma of China, Qiu Xiaolong

Book Review: Enigma of ChinaInspector Chen Book 8, Qiu Xiaolong

Book Review: Enigma of China, Inspector Chen Book 8, Qiu Xiaolong

Mystery: Enigma of China, Inspector Chen Book 8, Qiu Xiaolong


Zhou Keng is a “princeling,” the son of a high-ranking party official who has himself risen to a high position. Under investigation for corruption, Keng has been taken by party investigators to a local hotel for interrogation. That investigation is abruptly ended when Keng’s body is discovered hanging from a beam in the room.


Although the case is not specifically in Inspector Chen’s department, it is political so it falls to him to consult with the murder investigators. But just how much investigating can one do when it is in the self-interest of the party for the case to go away. A suicide is convenient. Regardless of the amount of sedative in his bloodstream, regardless of the mystery of where the rope came from, Chen is under pressure immediately to close the case, declare it a suicide, and move on.


Unfortunately for Chen, he takes his job seriously. And when the investigation becomes deadly for one of the investigators, that is a sign to him that somebody must be brought to justice. Somebody must pay.


In China, though, the person who pays may not be the one who committed the crime. It might be the investigator who learned too much about things the party wanted to keep hidden.


One theme the Inspector Chen series keeps returning to is the role of the party in China. There may be no greater cultural or political difference between western and Chinese mysteries. Certain western mysteries look at corruption: cops accepting bribes, politicians in the pockets of mobsters. But it is almost unfair to call the Chinese party “corrupt.” Certainly there are corrupt elements within. Bribery is hardly unique to westernized countries.


Perhaps a comparison to communication styles can clarify my meaning. My maternal grandmother assumed that if you were at the table, you wanted to eat. And if you were in the house when a meal was ready, you were expected to come to the table and eat. She insisted on making sure that everyone was fed, including popping up to get dessert. My father grew up in a very different sort of family. If you wanted something, you got it yourself. These different expectations of mealtime occasionally led to conflict. Grandmother would get up to get something for my dad: some more to drink, second helpings, dessert, etc. Dad would get exasperated and remind her that he could and would get it for himself if he wanted it. Grandma heard that as a rejection of her, personally. Dad saw her behavior as infantilizing him. Neither was fully right, neither was fully wrong, but each of them was talking past the other and feeling unheard and unappreciated.


In China, the party expects people to understand what it wants without being told what it wants. But not every person is adept at reading the party’s expectations. Those who successfully read the signs, thrive. Those who cannot read those signs struggle.


Then there are those like Inspector Chen, who read the signs, know what is expected–but solve the mystery anyway because that is what a good cop should do. That could, and likely will, create problems down the road.

Book Review: Enigma of China, Inspector Chen Book 8, Qiu Xiaolong

Book Review: Enigma of China, Inspector Chen Book 8, Qiu Xiaolong

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