Demoted to a largely ceremonial post, a master Chinese investigator struggles to understand his reduced circumstances and find his footing.
After many years as chief inspector and Deputy Party Secretary of the Shanghai police, the erudite Chen Cao is "reassigned" to the Shanghai Legal Reform Committee as director, a position without real power. On one level, this demotion is no surprise, given Chen's history of scrapes with the Communist Party (Enigma of China, 2013, etc.). But it fills him with foreboding. A long bus trip to rural Qingming to honor his deceased father proves the perfect opportunity for a lengthy rumination. His first assignment in his new post is a dubious "pornography raid" at the Heavenly World nightclub, where, incongruously, there's a book launch party for Chen's translation of T.S. Eliot. He wonders whether he himself was the target of the raid. A salty retired cop known as Old Hunter encourages Chen to explore new opportunities to work as a private investigator. As Chen returns repeatedly to his father's grave in Qingming, where he tries to understand the motives behind his reassignment, the reader learns that he has reason to worry. In his new role, Chen probes a handful of cases, including a philandering government official whose wife fears for her future. When she's murdered in her apartment, Chen's duty is clear.
Chen's 10th outing is another complex, methodical police procedural as well as a multifaceted look at a powerful society in flux.