About Me

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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.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"X" is for Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong

43. – 732.) Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong – For a third year my entry for the letter “X” in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted by Kerrie Smith at her blog, Mysteries in Paradise, will be a review of a book by Chinese American author, Qiu Xiaolong. I hope it is more tradition that I have developed than being unable to find another author I like whose surname starts with “X”.

As with Death of a Red Heroine the book opens with the discovery of a young woman who has been murdered. What makes the case here unusual is that she was found wearing a red mandarin dress that has had side slits ripped and several double-fish-shaped bosom buttons left undone.

The police are left reeling for it is the second murder of a young woman in a short time who has been dumped in a public location wearing a red mandarin dress and no other clothes.

There is a media frenzy about the red mandarin dress murders. Even in the highly controlled culture of Communist China the authorities are forced to acknowledge there is a serial killer in the City. Until the economic changes serial murders had been kept out of the press but once Chinese media were forced to sustain themselves economically they look as avidly to murder as any Western media.

A serial murderer is not acceptable to the Party and there is enormous pressure on the police to find the killer.

Chief Inspector Chen Cao is not interested in the case. He is on a short leave. He has enrolled in an MA program for Classical Chinese Literature at Shanghai University. His first paper is due shortly and he is going to use his time away from the office to work on the paper.

After looking at several Chinese short stories he has decided upon a paper which will delve into similarities in how women are portrayed in love stories over several hundred years.

His love of poetry is a daily part of his life, whether on work or at home. Chen continues to quote favoured lines. On a textile worker growing old swiftly:

            Soon, the splendor fades
            from the flower. There’s no stopping
            the chill rain, or the shrill wind.

While Chen is trying to focus on his paper his dutiful aide, Comrade Yu, is racing around trying to find information. Yu’s wife, Peiqin, searches for information on the distinctive red mandarin dresses placed upon the victims.

When Chen leaves Shanghai for a rest Yu is distraught. He has always leaned heavily on Chen to guide him investigations.

When Chen does return the investigation takes him back into the cruel days of the Cultural Revolution. Terrible actions were taken in the name of the Party.

During the book I was diverted by the amazing descriptions of food.  Chen describes soup buns:

“….the soup in the bun comes from the pork skin jelly mixing with the stuffing. In a steamer over the stove, the jelly turns into hot liquid. You have to bite carefully, or the soup will splash out, scalding your tongue.”

At the same time I was stunned by some of the dishes. I can do no more for description than list one item as live monkey brains.

Xiaolong writes subtle mysteries taking the reader into Chinese society past and present. His sleuth is skilled at dealing with highly political superiors. Every action must consider what the Party would want done.

The ending was one of the most poignant I have read in some time. I look forward to reading more Chief Inspector Chen books.

My next post will provide some thoughts on a red mandarin dress. It is a striking sensual dress. (Sept. 13/13.)
My personal connection is an affection for the beauty and power of the poetry in the series. I do not read books of poetry but I love poetry with great imagery and flow of words.
Earlier posts involing Qiu Xiaolong are:


  1. Bill - It's so interesting to me what happens when poets write novels. Many of them, as in this case, include evocative and powerful descriptions. So I can see how you'd be drawn in by the dress, the food, etc.. Thanks for an excellent review.

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Poetry and mystery are a natural combination.

  3. Bill, we have Xiaolong in common then towards the end of the Alphabet journey - even though I haven't yet read mine. I'll bump it up the pile!

  4. Bill, thanks for the review. I was not familiar with this author. I liked the way Qiu Xiaolong has woven cultural elements like poetry, dress, and food in his novel giving it a distinct Chinese identity.

  5. col: Thanks for the comment. Xiaolong is a good "X" to read.

  6. Prashant: Thanks for commenting. You highlight three of the elements which makes it a superb series.