Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mystery Novels 2

Some of the books recently added to the living list at Powell's bookstore, my own list, are given here with initial comments. The first two are by expatriate Chinese author Qiu Xiaolong:

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong

These two books are remarkable. Written by a scholar who moved from China to St. Louis, they gave me the first detailed pictures of many previously opaque aspects of the newest economy and the tragic Cultural Revolution, including its effect on families, villages, cities and individuals. The Cultural Revolution is shown through reminiscences of various characters in the stories. The police protagonist, Inspector Chen, is cultured, clever, principled, sometimes naive, and has the small worries and insecurities that help him come to life as a great character. He isn't the only detective who writes poetry or likes books, but his academic and artistic abilities are not forced into the stories, and his quotes from Chinese poetry or literature are infrequent enough that they add to the depth rather than detract from the flow of the story. The sideline of translating American fiction into Chinese gives the inspector some extra income- it also adds to his human qualities, but perhaps more important is how examples like this create a complex and believable Chinese world. We are given a range of insights into current and recently-past society, in a wide range of Chinese settings from rural to urban to aristocratic. Never did I feel that any of this information was forced- everything is wrapped up organically into exciting and suspenseful mysteries that accelerate toward the finish. There are political perils at local and National levels to deal with, and department politics to negotiate, all forming additional barriers to solving the crimes. The ancillary characters add much to the enjoyment of these books- their concerns may be about pay, career advancement or Party status, but they all ring true. I could not put these books down. The writer lives in St. Louis, as do I, and we have taught at the same University, but I do not know him.

More on the rest later, but these are all highly recommended:

Death of an Englishman (Soho Crime) by Magdalen Nabb ISBN: 9781569472545

Murder in the Sentier by Cara Black ISBN: 9781569473313

Murder in the Marais (Aimee Leduc Investigation) by Cara Black ISBN: 9781569472125

Murder in the Bastille (Aimee Leduc Investigation) by Cara Black ISBN: 9781569473641

Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay ISBN: 9781299768628 or 9781299768628 or 9781569470473

The Woman Who Married a Bear (Soho Crime) by John Straley ISBN: 9781569474013

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