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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong

A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong – In the second Chief Inspector Chen Cao mystery the Inspector starts his connections with America.

The book opens with the start of an investigation into the death by axe of a man whose body is found in the Bund Park in Shanghai. Before he can proceed Chen is abruptly summoned by Party Secretary Li and assigned to find Wen, the wife of an important witness in an American prosecution of the leader of a major human smuggling ring. She has disappeared from her home in Fujian. The Communist Chinese government of the early 1990’s, in a rare display of co-operation with the United States, has undertaken to find her and ensure she travels to America.

Chen is directed to work with U.S. Marshall, Catherine Rohn, in finding Wen and keeping her safe until she can fly out of China.

Chen would prefer to investigate the apparent triad murder in the Park but accepts it is his duty to undertake the new assignment. Beyond his swiftly rising status within the police his English language skills make him a logical liaison for Rohn. She has also gained the assignment partly because of her language proficiency. She speaks Chinese fluently.

While ostensibly given wide authority to conduct the investigation, Chen is further directed to keep Rohn occupied in Shanghai. Clearly the Party does not want Rohn roaming Shanghai seeking information on her own.

Needing to know why Wen has disappeared Chen dispatches his colleague and friend, Yu, to Fujian. Chen has concerns over the efforts of the local police.

Wen is a resident of Fujian because of the consequences of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. As a teenager she was sent to the countryside to work with the peasants and be re-educated. There is a striking poem within the book about her when she was a beautiful teenager departing from the Shanghai train station. In the poem she is performing the only acceptable dance of the era, a loyal character dance. The poem's author remembers:

    .... Her hair streamed
    into the dark eye of the sun.
    A leap, her skirt
    like a blossom, and the heart
    jumped out of her hand, fluttering
   like a flushed pheasant. A slip -
   I rushed to its rescue, when she
   caught it - a finishing touch
   to her performance. The people
   roared. I froze. She took my hand,
   waving, our fingers branching
   into each other, as if my blunder
   were a much rehearsed act, as if
   the curtain fell on the world
   in a peice of white paper
   to set off the red heart, in which
   I was the boy, she, the girl.


Life was harsh for Wen in the country. Various circumstances, including marriage, keep her in Fujian after the end of the Revolution. After two decades her beauty has faded and she endures from day to day.

As Chen expected Yu soon finds the Fujian police have made but perfunctory efforts to find Wen. Yu determines she received a phone call in the village from her husband in America warning her to flee. The pregnant Wen leaves the village.

Both Chen and Rohn have concerns about the security of their police organizations.

Chen, while recognizing there are international consequences if Wen is not found, must tread delicately. Triads are involved. Their influence has penetrated throughout the restaurants and clubs of Shanghai and is reaching into official China.

Chen uses past connections and establishes new links to gain information. Rohn occasionally provides unexpected insights. (They have an unusual relationship by Western fiction standards. They do not sleep together immediately after meeting.)

At the same time Chen quietly looks for information related to the Park murder.

The mystery is an insightful journey through a booming Chinese economy filled with new capitalists but also full of traditions. Chen and Rohn face dangers, sometimes more subtle than in the West, as they move forward.

Chen often quotes Chinese sayings and poetry. They add imagery uncommon in crime literature. Considering the transitory nature of our lives, he quotes a poet:

     Life is like the footprint left by a solitary crane in the snow,
     visible only for one moment, and then gone.

Xiaolong’s talents as a poet as well as a writer of a prose infuse the book with rhythmic grace. I look forward to reading the next in the series. (Oct. 22/12) 

****

This will be my second post for the letter "X" in the 2012 Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at Mysteries in Paradise.

2 comments:

  1. Bill - Thanks as always for this thoughtful and well-written review. I am taken by the poetry in the novel and really interested in the premise of Chen and Rhon working on this case together. It's good to hear too that their partnership is developed in the story but isn't stereotypical.

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  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Chen and Rohn are an uncommon pair of sleuths.

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