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Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai police bureau investigates corruption

There is a good piece from Detectives Without Borders featuring Qiu Xiaolong's A Case of Two Cities This is the fourth of Qiu Xiaolong's novels and his Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau. In a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, the conclusion was made: “Chen stands in a class with Martin Cruz Smith's Russian investigator, Arkady Renko, and P.D. James's Scotland Yard inspector, Adam Dalgliesh.”

I have been rereading Death of a Red Heroine and found the first 150 pages slow. At that point the story kicks in as Inspector Chen Cao’s relationship with the journalist starts to go into high gear and the high-ranking cadre who takes nude photographs becomes the main suspect in the murder. The author according to a recent interview has drawn from his own childhood experiences, passion for poetry and interests such as chess are drawn upon to flesh out Inspector Chen Cao.

What is amazing is that the novels are written by someone whose first language is Chinese. The author has admitted that writing background narrative and dialogue in the English language have been a struggle. Reading the books, though, you would never detect the author’s second language is English. These novels are a rare look on a rapidly evolving China where information is strictly controlled and people are sent to prison for expressing views that are critical of the political establishment.

Qiu Xiaolong's novels are not really detective fiction but they fit in the category of police procedural fiction where the overworked, underpaid police officer is up against the usual political problems but is expected to solve the case. What makes Qiu Xiaolong's novels worth pursuing is the inside look at the fast changing political landscape of China, and in particular the high octane growth in Shanghai’s economy and the acceleration of greed and corruption that has resulted.

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