In his second outing, Burdett (A Personal History of Thirst, p. 6) offers a bleakly effective thriller set in Hong Kong during the final days before its transfer from the UK to the People's Republic of China. Chan Siu-kai (a.k.a. Charlie), a chief inspector in the Crown Colony's Royal Police Force, has little time to waste on worrying about what may happen when Communists take control of the world's most capitalistic city. Indeed, the Eurasian detective (who blames the PRC's Cultural Revolution for the death of his beloved Chinese mother) is preoccupied with solving three nauseating homicides. When the virtually clueless case (which the local press has dubbed the Mincer Murders because the victims were sliced and diced beyond recognition) draws him into waters claimed by the mainland (to recover a trio of severed heads), his bosses take a hand in the game. With the resourceful assistance of forensic specialists, Charlie (a divorced loner with few interests outside his job) eventually develops some leads. His tentative identifications of the deceased flush out new informants from as far away as America. Although crafty Brit officials continue to place obstacles in his path, the determined sleuth follows a trail leading to an underwater site on the Kowloon side of the harbor. What he finds suggests that there's appreciably more to the original killings than a commercial dispute among drug-dealing triads, the official version of events. At no small personal, professional, and spiritual cost, Charlie eventually learns that his suspicions were well-founded and that the incoming Reds will prove infinitely worse masters than their rapacious predecessors. While the author leans heavily on his broody protagonist as a symbolic embodiment of never-the-twain-shall-meet angst, the twisty narrative packs a cynical wallop.