About Me

My photo
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, March 28, 2017

The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong

The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong – Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau has been in line to head the Bureau but long time Party boss for the Bureau, Li, has been reappointed:

As a sort of compensation, Chen was made the first deputy Party secretary of the bureau and a member of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee.

In the Byzantine structure of the Chinese Communist Party he gains some additional status but not power. Unlike most with his rank he rarely uses his stature for personal benefit.

Chen is directed to serve as a consultant to detective Wei on a treacherous investigation. Zhou Keng, was the director of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee. In that position he has made a fortune. A photo circulated on the internet showing him smoking a very expensive brand of cigarettes, 93 Supreme Majesty, prompted a “human flesh” search where dozens of netizens searched for and found evidence of corruption by Zhou. Unable to ignore the evidence the Party has shuangguied Zhou (taken him into official but not legislated custody for investigation into his actions). The usual consequence is a show trial and pre-determined punishment. While in custody at a luxury hotel Zhou has been found dead. The Party would like a finding of suicide.

Three different government teams are investigating the death. For the police Wei is dedicated to conducting a thorough investigation.

To understand what happened Chen consults with Lianping, a lovely young journalist with the Wenhui Daily. Which mystery author but Xiaolong could describe a character as:

Slender, supple, she’s so young, / the tip of a cardamom bud / in the early spring

She explains to him how blogs and forums are being used to provide news the official media is censored from providing to the Chinese people. Too often for the Party corruption is being revealed.

Net police are becoming more aggressive closing down blogs and preventing searches of politically sensitive topics. It is a new underworld to Chen.

With Zhou dead Chen cannot understand why the Party teams, suddenly augmented by another team from Bejing, are continuing to stay active. What could be dangerous if his death was murder not suicide?

Chen knows there are conflicting factions within the Party. In the never ending power struggles there are equally powerful figures who would respectively prefer murder and suicide.

While Chen wants seeks the truth he knows that major criminal investigations are resolved on the principle of what resolution will lead to a “harmonious society” in the eyes of the Party.

Will romance blossom between the poetic Chen and the high spirited Lianping? Chen’s mother longs for him to find a spouse but Lianping is being courted by a wealthy developer, Xiang. Yet how could there not be a spark when Chen and Lianping stand in a beautiful garden before a large rock engraved with the poem:

          The sun is sinking behind the city wall
to the sad notes of a shining bugle.
Here in Shen Garden,
the pond and the pavilion appear
no longer to be the same,
except the heartbreaking ripples
still so green under the bridge,
the ripples that once reflected her arrival
light-footed, in such a beauty
as to shame the wild geese into fleeing.
 Neither fits comfortably into current China as exemplified at a funeral:

The newly materialistic society was shaping many aspects of life according to its own terms – even things like this temple service. The more expense, the more face. That was a type of competition the Yu’s couldn’t afford, which was why Yu, a non-Buddhist, had to bring Chief Inspector Chen – supposedly a high-ranking Party official – into the scene. It was all for the sake of face. Face was an important issue to the Shanghainese.

Back to the investigation the stakes become much higher when Wei is killed. It is clear to Chen the death was not because of a drunken hit and run driver.

As Chen penetrates layers of secrecy the story rushes to a climax that turns out to be a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. It has been a long time since I encountered such a conclusion. Fortunately, when I bought Enigma of China I also bought Shanghai Redemption. While barely able to restrain myself I wanted to get this review written before starting Shanghai Redemption. Now with the review completed I am moments away from finding out what happened to Chen. It is a wonderful series.


  1. It really is an excellent series, isn't it, Bill? One of the many things I like about this novel is the way it portrays the love/hate relationship between the Party and online groups. On the one hand, the Party benefits from what the online groups know. On the other, for obvious reasons, it doesn't like them. I think that's very well done here.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The independence of the internet will always be at least uncomfortable for oligarchies and dictatorships and even democracies.

  2. Bill, I am embarrassed to say that I still haven't read any of Qiu Xiaolong's books, and I have quite a few of them. Really I have to read the first soon.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I have found myself ever more interested in the series as I have read about Chief Inspector Chen.

  3. I have not tried this series yet, but you do a good job selling it, it sounds splendid. Great review.

  4. Moira: Thanks for the kind words. Qiu writes quality intelligent crime fiction and you are bound to find some vivid descriptions of clothes. One of the books in the series is title Red Mandarin Dress.

    1. Moira: I look forward to that happy day when I open your blog to see a red mandarin dress.