(17. - 1156.) Inspector Chen and the Private Kitchen Murder by Qiu Xiaolong - (This review is best read after reading the previous 2 books in the series - Hold Your Breath, China and Becoming Inspector Chen).
The opening sentence eliminates the uncertainty of the status of Chen:
Chen Cao, the ex-chief inspector
of the Shanghai Police Bureau, now the Director of
the Shanghai Judicial Reform Office - though
currently on "convalescent leave" - woke with a start.
I was disappointed. He was removed from the police force for being too successful. He is “promoted” to the Office for Judicial Reform and arbitrarily placed upon sick leave. Chen tries to enjoy his unexpected leave. He realizes the break was needed after dealing with so many “special cases”. He is well aware his new position is likely a prelude to dismissal after public anger over his dismissal has faded.
Chen is given a Judge Dee mystery by a visiting French writer. He is drawn into the Tang dynasty mystery involving poets, murders and a “legendary Chinese investigator”. The book echoes his life.
Unexpectedly he is approached by Old Hunter, the father of his former partner, Detective Yu. He is invited to be a consultant to the detective agency at which Old Hunter is working. While private investigating businesses are illegal there is a need for their services.
Simi, a client of the agency, wants Chen to prove Min, the owner of a private kitchen, did not murder her kitchen assistant, Qing. Simi's position is opaque.
Private house kitchens offer a dinner party for up to 8 people in a private home. A lavish exotic meal is provided. Most such kitchens have but one meal a week. The cost is very high. For one of Min’s dinner parties it is $2,000 Canadian for each guest. The Shanghai rich reserve dinner parties with her months in advance for face gained by participating is great.
Min is also a noted courtesan. Her nickname “Republican Lady” does not conform with socialist principles.
The case is bound to involve the Party elite. Chen is to be a special consultant in the background. He cannot be seen to be investigating a murder.
Subtly, Chen’s assistant, Jin, does independent research on Min using her computer connections between young Chinese.
Chen is moved when his first love, Ling, reaches out to him and encourages him to come to London. Her father is retired though senior Party cadres never fully retire.
At the same time there is a swirling public debate about a corrupt judge, Jiao, whose dalliance with young escorts has been exposed by Pang, a man adversely affected by a dishonest ruling. Pang bribed a hotel doorman to gain access to surveillance cameras. Chen points out in a public comment that the evidence was illegally obtained. The Party is happy to note when evidence is illegally obtained if it is gathered against a Party official in favour.
Jin proves to be a clever, dedicated and intuitive investigator. With Chen unable to conduct interviews she calls those present at Min’s supper, ostensibly on behalf of Chen’s office.
While Chen is accustomed to dealing with crimes in ways that minimize agitation of senior officials in Beijing, even he finds the Min case unusual. There appear to be competing factions among the Red Princes with conflicting positions on Min. The heads of Chen and this reader were spinning trying to work out what is happening in Beijing.
Chen is thoughtful and analytical as always. His future remains murky. It is hard to divine whether the senior Party authorities want to promote him or dismiss him.
I get the feeling Chen will never return to the police and will enter the private sector. He has done all he can as a police officer.
(This book also does not deal with the cliffhanger from Hold Your Breath, China. There is a disconnect between the enticement and the lack of follow up. I thought it was wrong not to deal with the twist in two subsequent books.)