In his third outing (A Loyal Character Dancer, 2003, etc.), usually unflappable Chief Inspector Chen is one confused Chinese about Shanghai in transition.
What Chen knows, Chen really knows—for instance, how to outmaneuver Party Secretary Li and the rest of the brass at the Shanghai Police Bureau, or how to run a first-class homicide investigation, no matter how intricate or sensitive. When Yin Lige, the high-profile, bestselling author of Death of a Chinese Professor, is found murdered in her apartment, he doesn’t break a sweat or cut short his vacation. Detective Yu, his second in command, is his man on the spot, he informs a flustered Secretary Li, implying that a Chen-picked man would quite naturally maintain Chen-like standards. It’s only in connection with a project like the luxury community development proposed by the New World Group—on which Chen is engaged in a bit of moonlighting—that he feels as if his grip on reality has loosened. “There’s a new term,” his Western-enamored friend dubbed Overseas Chinese Lu tells him: “. . . conspicuous consumption. And a new group of people, the middle class.” Clearly, then, it’s not Mao’s China any more. But at least one reality remains reassuringly intact: Bad guys make dumb mistakes, enabling good guys to catch them.
Wanders a bit, but Chen and his men in a fascinating setting easily redeem minor flaws.