Firemaker by Peter May (1999) - A nanny speaks to the police of a man ablaze in a Bejing park:
“He was still alive. Reaching out
to me, like he was asking for
help.”Detective Li Yan, on his first day as Deputy Section Chief, investigates the deaths of the fire victim, a drug dealer and an intinerant worker.
It was one of the fundamental differences, Li thought, between the American approach and the Chinese approach. The Americans placed more stress on motive, The Chinese, preferred to build the evidence, piece by tiny piece, until the accumulation of it was overwhelmingly conclusive. The “why” was not the key to the answer but the answer itself. Perhaps by working together they could combine the virtures of both systems.Li embarks on a traditional Chinese criminal investigation with extensive interviews and careful reviews of physical evidence but May adds a discordant scene where the “traditional” American threat of physical violence is used to extort information.
“According to Chinese law a defendant has the right to defend himself. But he also has a duty to co-operate with the police and the court in uncovering the truth about his case. You might think that the right to defend himself would lead automatically to a right to silence under interrogation, to protect himself, like Americans take the Fifth. Only he also has a duty - to the state, to society - to answer all questions faithfully and truthfully, even if that incriminates him …. The real problem with China is that while the defendant’s rights are pretty well protected in the constitution, they’re often neglected, or even abused, in practice. But there’s a lot of bright people in this country working hard to change that. And not without success. Things are improving.”Campbell’s knowledge lets her determine the identity of the burned man. Chao Heng is a retired high level bureaucrat in China’s Department of Agriculture who worked on the genetic modification of rice to create a “super rice” that has dramatically increased Chinese food production.
The pace of the plot quickened until I was anxious to turn the page to see the resolution. I was reminded of the great early novels of Robert Ludlum creating believable conspiracies that captured the reader.