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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, January 19, 2016

The Poetry of Pollution in Qui Xiaolong's Fiction

I seldom read poetry but I have enjoyed the poems in the Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong. They provide images and rhythms rarely encountered into crime fiction. Beyond Chen and Adam Dagleish in the books of P.D. James I cannot recall having read books with sleuths who were also poets.

In the early books of the Chen series I recall poems associated with relationships or pastoral scenes. I remember grand vistas and potent emotions.

In Don’t Cry, Tai Lake, which I reviewed in my last post, there are quotations from classic Chinese poetry. In a moment of melancholy Chen recalls lines from Su Shi of the Song dynasty:

It is nothing but a dream, / for the past, for the present. / Whoever wakes out of the dream? / There is only a never-ending cycle of old joy, and new grief. / Someday, someone else, / in view of the tower at night, / may sigh deeply for me.

But Chen’s poetry does not live in the past. He provides current imagery in his poetry when he thinks of the lovely Shanshan and their developing relationship and her efforts against fierce opposition to save Tai Lake:

          In a trance of blazing poppies
          or in the cooling shade, deeply covered
          with moss, you have forgotten
the night we spent on the bridge,
beyond them converging
into music on your retina, while
you conducted with your cigarette
a tone poem of the sleepless lake,
when you no longer belonged
to a place, nor a time, nor yourself.
When another white water bird flies
from the calendar, may you dream
no longer of a pale oyster
clinging to the grim limestone.

(Where are you now, as dawn taps
at my window with her rosy fingers,
as the fragrance of coffee and bread
penetrates the wakening mind,
and as the door, like a smile,
welcomes flowers and newspapers?)

His poetry becomes powerful when he turns to contemporary industry. What startled me and stayed with me was Chen’s poetry describing pollution:

The morning comes to the lake
in waves of toxic waste, waves
of poisonous air, surging to smother
the smile in the waking boughs.
she walks in a red jacket
like a bright sail through the dust
under the network of pipes, long
in disrepair, spreading cobweblike,
dripping with contaminated water.
The broken metal-blue fingernails
of the leaves clutching
the barren bank of the lake,
the dead fish afloat, shining
with the mercury bellies trembling,
their glassy eyes still flashing
with the last horror and fascination
Soon, the spring is departing again.
How much more of wind and rain
can it really endure? Only the cobweb
still cares, trying to catch
a touch of fading memory.
Why is the door always covered
in the dust of doubts?
The lake cries, staring
at the silent splendid sun.

I should not have been surprised as I was at the power of modern images.

The only book of poetry I have reviewed on this blog is Anthem for Doomed Youth, an anthology of World War I poetry, by participants in the Great War. I found those poems powerful and moving. Several describe the modern mechanical efficiency of killing.

John Hobson closes his poem The Machine Gun:

Here do I lie,
                 Hidden by grass and flowers,
            With my machine-gun,
           Ghost of modern war.
           The sun floats high,
        The moon through deep blue hours,
I watch with my machine-gun
At Death’s grim door.

There is insight into modern life through poems that is beyond what prose can tell us.
Xiaolong, Qiu – (2009) - Death of a Red Heroine (Second best of 2009 fiction); (2011) - "X" is for Qui Xiaolong; (2011) - A Case for Two Cities; (2012) - "X" is for Qiu Xiaolong Again; (2012) - A Loyal Character Dancer; (2013) - Red Mandarin Dress and Reflections on red Mandarin dresses; (2015) - The Mao Case;  (2016) - Don't Cry, Tai Lake


  1. Yes, I like that about Inspector Chen as well - but I can't remember any examples of Dalgliesh's poetry, can you? PD James obviously preferred to keep him more mysterious.

    1. Marina: Thanks for the comment. I cannot remember any examples. It has been several years since I read one of the Dagliesh mysteries.

  2. I'm glad you highlighted the poetry, Bill. That's part of what makes those stories unique. Some of the poetry is really powerful, too, as you've shown here. And all of it has (at least to me) strong imagery.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think we would benefit from having more police officers who are poets.

  3. I would expect to find poetry in a crime book to be very off-putting, but you do a good job of persuading me otherwise, and your conclusion is a just one.

  4. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I would be interested in seeing more crime writers include poetry in their books.