This weeks contribution to the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme hosted at Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise is Q for Qiu Xiaolong.
I finished reading Qiu Xiaolong's debut novel Death of a Red Heroine a few days ago.
May 1990. An attractive young woman's body is found in an out of the way canal twenty miles to the west of Shanghai.
Her murder is investigated by Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau homicide department special case squad, with his able assistant Detective Yu Guangming. It does not take them very long to identify the victim as Guan Hongying, an attractive role model worker seemingly living a frugal and chaste life in a spartan dorm building.
Chen, a poet and translator of western crime fiction as a sideline, realises the difficult political nature of the case, when the main suspect turns out to be a member of the HCC [High Cadre Children] the privileged group, who may be above the law.
But those HCC! That was one of the things making life so hard for ordinary Chinese. With their family connections, HCC could do what other people could not dream of doing, and rocketed up their political careers.
Chief Inspector Chen and Detective Yu may be very different people, but they are both honest cops, who believe that all people are equal under the law. Unfortunately they are working in a country where despite the apparent drift to some form of capitalism, the party still retains overwhelming power and influence.
They soon came to the midsection of Henshan Road, where the Wu Mansion stood looming behind high walls. Originally it had been owned by a tycoon surnamed Zhou. When the Communists took over in 1949, the Zhou family fled to Taiwan, and Wu Bing's family moved in.
Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai, has lived in the USA since 1989, and now lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.
He won the Anthony Award for Best First Crime Novel for Death of a Red Heroine.
This was a wonderfully instructive book about China, the lives of ordinary Chinese people, and how the Communist Party cadres live a highly privileged and sometimes decadent existence. Crime Fiction is used to put across a political point and tell the story of a great crime that is perhaps still not fully comprehended in the West.
How so many young people were sent into the countryside to be re-educated during Mao's Cultural Revolution.
Much of the book deals with the personal lives, history and romantic attachments of Chief Inspector Chen, a lonely detective, who because of his status as a poet, and party member has been given a larger apartment, and is expected to put the interests of the party above personal happiness and even justice.
His older subordinate Detective Yu has a happy family life with his loyal supportive wife Peiqin, and this proves a stark contrast to model worker Guan Honying's real life when this is gradually revealed by the investigation.
I really enjoyed reading about all the characters along with a mixture of history, Chinese poetry and accounts of interesting food.
Some might criticise the length of the book and the repetitive stories of the damage done by the Cultural Revolution, but the characters are so well defined and the descriptions of China so vivid and interesting that I did not find it overlong.
I am tempted to skip to the last book in the series The Mao Case to see how Chief Inspector Chen has progressed after this outstanding debut.
Also I always like backing the underdog, and in this book Chief Inspector Chen is always struggling against the system.
It might be a losing battle, but Chen saw he was not alone in it. Detective Yu, Peiqin, Old Hunter, Overseas Chinese Lu, Ruru, Wang Feng, Little Zhou..... and Dr Xia, too.
Because of them he was not going to quit.