A Mystery Centered in Shanghai by the Skillful Qui Xiaolong

Shanghai Redemption, a Chinese mystery featuring Chen Cao, the recently demoted chief inspector of the Shanghai Police Department.  Chen, who has hitherto maintained an enviable reputation as an honest and resourceful detective, is now inexplicably in jeopardy.  Trying to figure out where he went wrong or which of his investigations proved too hot for his enemies compels Chen to navigate the treacherous waters of modern day China.  A rat’s nest of party politics, corruption and disgraced cadres proves difficult to unravel and exceedingly dangerous.  The author does a stellar job of revealing Chen’s personality, perceptions and strategies.   Seeing events from Chen’s perspective, as well as the perspective of some of his old allies, makes for a great narrative.  This novel also provides a wealth of interesting characters with all kinds of connections to Chen and his enemies.   I did find it difficult to keep track of the names of so many characters who drop in and out of the narrative in no particular order.  If I had it to do over again, I would keep a list of who the characters were and when they first appeared, because many of the names sounded very similar me.

I’m increasingly interested in mysteries from the Far East, and Shanghai Redemption is a stellar entry in the genre.  This is the first Inspector Chen novel I have read, but it’s not the first in the series.  I plan to go back in time and read some of the earlier novels, because this is a very intelligent and compelling series with a unique detective.

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Why We Die  —  A Strong British Mystery Featuring a Tough Female Detective and a Very Noir Atmosphere 

Mick Herron’s Why We Die is a strong mystery with quite a lot happening.  It’s a shame Lauren Bacall isn’t around to play the vamp, but Jennifer Lawrence would make a powerful Zoe Bohm, a down on her luck private eye who stumbles into the highly perilous inner workings of a crime family.  Arkle, one of three brothers, is seriously the scariest thug I’ve seen.  Sociopath doesn’t begin to describe him.  The interplay among Arkle and his two seemingly less scary brothers provides unifying substance to the careening violence, where nothing seems to go quite right.   The plot is spectacular, but so too are the characters and their troubles.  It’s a page turner with depth, supported by a grungy Oxford setting.    I highly recommend this book, particularly to people who like female detectives, British mysteries and a lot of noir. 

Beyond the Spellmans, Lisa Lutz Gets More Serious

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There is something particularly anxiety producing about 0n-run-mysteries.  Lisa Lutz, the author of the weird and hilarious Spellman mysteries, continues to favor an off-kilter attack, but she tries a more serious approach in The Passenger.  Tanya Dubois is on the run from the get-go in this oddly deranged and absorbing tale.  It’s a challenge to make a wrong-doing character sympathetic, but Lutz pulls it off.   Tanya isn’t nice or law-abiding, but you are anxious to know her backstory.  As Tanya’s troubles compound and she wreaks more and more mayhem, you still pull for her even as you shake your head. Logic isn’t much in play here.

On the plus side, every reader ought keep this book, in case he or she ever finds herself on the run, because Lutz provides an abundant education on  how to disappear and take on new identities.  Hopefully this this will never prove useful

The Passenger is one of those books where each escape proves fleeting, and the constant onslaught of threats is dark and ugly.  Without spoiling the story, the book succeeds because the careening plot is balanced by a continuing thread of human contact that suggests better times.