2016年5月31日 星期二

"Death of a Red Heroine 紅英之死" by Qiu Xialong (2000)


"It was a sweltering Friday afternoon.  Occasionally cicadas could be heard chirping on a poplar tree outside the window of his new one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a gray-brick building.  From the window, he could look out to the busy traffic moving slowly along Huaihai Road, but at a desirable, noiseless distance.  The building was conveniently located near the center of the Luwan district.  It took him less than twenty minutes to walk to Nanjing Road in the north, or to the City God's temple in the south, and on a clear summer night, he could smell the tangy breeze from the Huangpu River."

Qiu Xialong is a writer from Mainland China who wrote this novel in English.  He was a poet, translator, and critic in China, and in 1989 he moved to the USA, where he now teaches Chinese Literature at Washington University.

Death of a Red Heroine was his first novel.  This and all of his other novels form the "Detective Chen series," which I'm guessing has faded from the public consciousness.  The Chinese title, 紅英之死, could be translated as "The Death of Hong Ying," but it's also a play on words.  The character Hong Ying 紅英, whose name literally means "red hero(ine)," is the woman whose untimely demise sparks the investigation by detectives Chen and Yu.

In the book, Hong Ying's body is discovered near Shanghai, and the "special crimes unit" is assigned to the case.  Chief Inspector Chen, who leads the unit, does so with the assistance of his older colleague, Yu Guangming, and several others.  A friendship between Chen and Yu develops over the course of the novel, and as they labor to solve the case they slowly realize the political implications of the crime they're trying to solve.

It's competently written, though written in a language foreign to the author.  It manages to avoid some of the more tiresome tropes associated with the genre, and it offers a revealing look at China in the 1990s.  Detective Chen is an obvious doppelganger for Qiu Xialong, but he remains an engaging character throughout the book.  I think a more assiduous editor could have shortened this novel by about 100 pages, but the publishing company was probably pushing for the standard 400.

I would recommend this book to those interested in the mystery/suspense genre, or to those interested in life in modern China.  Those uninterested in either of those subjects will probably find this book boring.

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