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This extraordinary first novel by an expatriate from China offers a detailed portrait of Shanghai in the immediate wake of Tiananmen and a moving depiction of the everyday life of a citizenry that is hoping for greater openness but fearful of the enduring power and intrusiveness of the Party. Mr. Xiaolong's hero, Chief Inspector Chen Cao, would seem to be a character very much like himself: a young man, a poet and a translator who is liberal but traditional enough not to be a radical. Investigating the murder of a young woman who is nationally famous as a "Red Heroine," or exemplary Party member, brings him and his determination to see justice done into conflict with a bureaucracy that is obsessed with reputation instead and unwilling to brook so much as a hint of scandal.

As Martin Cruz Smith and Philip Kerr before him, the author makes effective use of a backdrop of totalitarian dread, where any political deviation can be, literally, fatal. What's unique here though is the glimpse he affords into the daily life of the Shanghainese. Poetry, food and friendship are every bit as important to Chen as the case he's trying to solve and they create a social skien that is so rich as to make a certain conservatism about the changes that are also occurring in the background seem warranted. Glorious as it certainly is to grow rich, there is something even more valuable in the pleasures that Chen and his deputy, Detective Yu, take from a simple meal prepared by the latter's wife and in the camaraderie that develops between the two as they accept great risks because they genuinely believe in doing the right thing and in building a better China. It is this essential decency of the main characters and of others we meet along the way and their struggle to make sense of a society that is somewhat trapped between a brutal past it knows it must reject and a freer future it is not being permitted to truly embrace that make the book such an enjoyable and fascinating read. Chen and Yu are excellent company and the sequels that Mr. Xiaolong has already written are anticipated with pleasure.


Grade: (A+)


Qiu Xiaolong Links:

    -Qiu Xiaolong (Wikipedia)
    -Qiu Xiaolong (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -PROFILE: A writer trying to solve his own mysteries, and China's: For Qiu Xiaolong, Shanghai is his muse, the one consistent subject of his fiction, the four Inspector Chen detective stories he has written so far. (Howard W. French, 6/04/07, IHT)
    -PROFILE: Shanghai Detective Fiction Reflects a Changing China (Louisa Lim, September 29, 2006, Morning Edition)
    -PROFILE: Dream World to Cosmopolis: Authors' Shanghai (Louisa Lim, December 15, 2006, Morning Edition)
    -INTERVIEW: "Tiananmen Changed All My Plans": Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen series is one of the freshest and most unpredictable commentaries on modern China. The U.S.-based author is now coming out with the fourth installment. (Barbara Koh, Nov 29, 2006, Newsweek)
    -PROFILE: Qiu Xiaolong & the Chinese Enigma (Caroline Cummins, January Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Qiu Xiaolong (Cara Black, Mystery Readers International)
    -INTERVIEW: Qiu Xiaolong (Missouri Center for the Book, May 2003)
    -INTERVIEW: Qiu Xiaolong: Poetry in Prose (Excerpts from the interview by S.J. Rozan in the October/November 2002 issue of Mystery News)
    -PROFILE: Merging of cultures (Shanghai Star. 2004-03-04 )
    -BOOK LIST: Tales of Intrigue: The top political novels (MELANIE KIRKPATRICK, August 26, 2006, Opinion Journal)
    -ARCHIVES: "qiu xiaolong" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Contamination: On Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen Mysteries (Alex L. Wang, OCTOBER 8, 2020, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (N. Banerjee, AsianWeek)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (Cynthia Grenier, World Net Daily)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (Eddie Silva, St. Louis River Front Times)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (Andrea Kempf, Persimmon)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (Laura Wilson, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (Sudheer Apte, Desi Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Death of a Red Heroine (G. Hall, BookLoons)
    -REVIEW: of A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong (Jeffrey C. Kinkley, Persimmon)
    -REVIEW: of A Loyal Character Dancer (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air)
    -REVIEW: of A Loyal Character Dancer (Barry Forshaw, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW: of A Loyal Character Dancer (Marcel Berlins, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of A Loyal Character Dancer (Charles Foran, Asian Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of A Loyal Character Dancer (Christine Poulson, Shots Mag)
    -REVIEW: of When Red is Black by Qiu Xiaolong (Maxim Jakubowski, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of When Red is Black (Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of When Red is Black (Howard W. French, The New York Times)
    -REVIEW: of When Red is Black (BRUCE TIERNEY, BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of A Case of Two Cities by Qiu Xiaolong (Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ARTICLE: Shanghai Rising: China struggles to build a livable city inside a world-class business capital (Frederik Balfour, 2/08/07, Business Week)