A Shanghai inspector reluctantly probes a case linked to the late Chairman Mao.
With his reputation for discretion and his background as a poet and critic, Chief Inspector Chen Cao (Red Mandarin Dress, 2007, etc.) is the likeliest choice from the Shanghai Police Department’s Special Case group to take on a sensitive assignment. A young woman named Jiao, whose movie actress grandmother was a favorite of Chairman Mao 50 years ago, may have inherited important information that the government feels compelled to know. (Chen’s disdain for the bureaucracy is well-known to series readers; his ongoing inner monologue wraps both reflection and incisive humor in elegant prose). Adding to the mystery is the fact that Jiao lives in a luxury apartment whose cost is apparently beyond her means. Jiao’s mother Qian, who died in a mysterious “accident” during the Cultural Revolution, was the subject of a bestseller called Cloud and Rain in Shanghai, with which Chen begins his research. Pretending to write a historical novel, Chen meets the young woman, an aspiring painter, at the dilapidated mansion of Xie, who teaches art classes and has frequent parties there. Initially, it’s the disparity between the present and the past as Chen is able to piece it together, rather than the pursuit of Jiao’s secret, that gives the story depth and suspense. But a murder in Xie’s garden shifts Chen’s focus, leaving Xie and Jiao two strong suspects who each provide the other a convenient alibi.
Chen’s sixth case is every bit as engrossing as its predecessors.