A methodical serial killer’s method baffles Shanghai police.
A morning jogger discovers the corpse of a beautiful young woman in a vintage red Mandarin dress. With Chief Inspector Chen Cao (A Case of Two Cities, 2006, etc.) on a leave of absence to pursue an advanced degree in literary studies, the case falls to his uninspired second-in-command, Det. Yu, who’s eager to fly solo and make a favorable impression. Chen’s leave doesn’t stop an influential member of the Shanghai People’s Congress from insisting that Chen investigate a politically sensitive case involving a local housing project. So Chen’s literary investigation gets folded in with metropolitan police pursuits and such arcane studies as the sociological and sexual symbolism behind the red Mandarin dress. A second dead girl in identical attire prompts police to look for patterns. This second victim was a “three-accompanying girl” (a prostitute) and the first worked long hours in a hotel to avoid such a fate. Clues lead police to a local dance club, where they set up a sting in which eager young policewoman Hong acts as a decoy. The plan goes so terribly wrong—Hong vanishes and is later found dead in a red Mandarin dress—that Chen puts his studies on hold to unravel the complex psychology of the killer.
The author’s heady plot highlights his strengths, elegantly capturing China in transition. A fascinating read.