Can Inspector Chen toe the Communist Party line and certify a suspicious death as a suicide?
As he listens to a lecture at the Shanghai Writers' Association in which scholar Yao Ji deplores the "moral bankruptcy" of modern China, esteemed poet and police detective Chen Cao again notes the incongruity and delicacy of his job. Matters like these are much on his mind when Chen is called to help investigate the death of Zhou Keng, the director of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee, who's recently fallen under an ethical cloud. Zhou has been "under detention" for weeks in the luxe Moller Villa Hotel. His death by hanging has been judged a suicide, and Chen's been called in to confirm this party ruling even though Inspector Liao, the head of the homicide squad, and his assistant, veteran detective Wei, are also working the case. Chen and Wei are greeted at the hotel by a pair of party officials, Jiang and Liu, who barely let them work in peace. Although these bureaucrats are anxious to close the case, Chen and Wei find many troubling inconsistencies, like the fact that Zhou had taken sleeping pills on the night of his death. Chen's Internet search for more about the controversial Zhou reveals mainly that information about him has been blocked. When a colleague is run down in a suspicious incident, Chen knows what he must do.
In his ninth Inspector Chen novel (Don't Cry, Tai Lake, 2012, etc.), Xiaolong again uses a mystery to focus a large and nuanced portrait of contemporary China.