A hard-boiled Asian investigator probes the disappearance of "the most beautiful woman in the world."
Maj. Bing Zong-yuan, State Security officer and the nephew of retired North Korean Inspector O (The Man With the Baltic Stare, 2010, etc.), is staying with his uncle when the (in)famous Madame Fang Mei-lin stops by unannounced. Bing is taken aback by the chemistry betwixt his uncle and the legendary beauty, but he stops short of asking about the nature of her notoriety, which seems to be political, or the details of the pair's subsequent night out. There's no doubt, however, that her visit stirs up strong feelings that the senior investigator has worked hard to control. Bing works for the government just over the border in China, and his superiors frequently subject him to awkward questions about his uncle's activities. He receives the secret mission of shepherding an agent across the border into North Korea as Inspector O is probing a more concrete and bizarre case brought to him by a Miss Du. Claiming that her father's remains are cut up and wrapped in the freezer of her brother's restaurant, she becomes a regular visitor to the Inspector's office. The vanishing of Madame Fang, along with a colleague, throw both uncle and nephew into turmoil, and Bing feels compelled to investigate, especially as Uncle O is being eyed as a suspect.
Church's elegant ambiguity and frequent digressions get a facelift with his new hero Bing's edgier first-person narrative, and he has great insight into Asian culture and politics. Casual readers, however, should be warned that the plot is tantalizingly complex.