Enigma of China
An Inspector Chen Mystery by Qiu Xiaolong
Review: After Zhou Keng, a senior Party official, is shuangguied by authorities and put up in a secure hotel pending an outcome to a review as the level and depth of his corruption, he is found hanged from an exposed beam in his hotel room. A suicide, no doubt, but police Chief Inspector Chen Cao is assigned to assist with the official investigation and his involvement puzzles him: the process of shuanggui is a political one, outside the jurisdiction of the police department. And yet not only is he involved, but so too is Detective Wei. Chen can only conclude that that the Party wants to ensure that the finding is sanctioned by the police, even if it isn't their responsibility. Still, Chen's sense of duty prompts him to conduct his own investigation into the death of Zhou in Enigma of China, the eighth mystery in this series by Qiu Ziaolong.
Zhou Keng had been exposed by a pack of cigarettes, a luxury brand far too expensive for a Party official of his standing. He was seen with them on an Internet video, which prompted a "human-flesh search", or crowd-sourced search, for information. With much of the Internet censored by the Party, it isn't uncommon for Chinese netizens to do their search via human-power versus computer-power. And details regarding Zhou's lavish lifestyle came to light, resulting in the Party having to shuanggui him in order to protect the best interests of the country … and the Party, of course. That he subsequently killed himself isn't too surprising … except to Chen and Wei. Zhou's body was found to have been heavily sedated, and the mere act of hanging himself in that state seems incredibly unlikely. And where would he get a rope heavy enough to support his body in a standard hotel room?
Enigma of China is structured mostly as a whodunit/howdunit-style murder mystery with a strong police procedural element. The premise is a solid one, but isn't really developed much beyond the setup and is resolved in a rather disappointing manner. Too, there is an incredible amount of repetition here. More probably, this repetition simply mirrors political life in China (and probably elsewhere as well), where one has to take small steps to move forward, thinking about each move and considering the consequences thereof before making it. But it does make for a slow-moving narrative. Not unexpectedly, there is some editorializing here, but it's generally done in a thoughtful, mostly unobtrusive manner. Overall, not a bad mystery but rather a somewhat mundane, if also a not uninteresting, one.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of Enigma of China for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Enigma of China: Shanghai, China
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Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong — An Inspector Chen Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: June 2013
List Price: $25.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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