The Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong – Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau has been in line to head the Bureau but long time Party boss for the Bureau, Li, has been reappointed:
As a sort of compensation, Chen was made the first deputy Party secretary of the bureau and a member of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee.
In the Byzantine structure of the Chinese Communist Party he gains some additional status but not power. Unlike most with his rank he rarely uses his stature for personal benefit.
Chen is directed to serve as a consultant to detective Wei on a treacherous investigation. Zhou Keng, was the director of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee. In that position he has made a fortune. A photo circulated on the internet showing him smoking a very expensive brand of cigarettes, 93 Supreme Majesty, prompted a “human flesh” search where dozens of netizens searched for and found evidence of corruption by Zhou. Unable to ignore the evidence the Party has shuangguied Zhou (taken him into official but not legislated custody for investigation into his actions). The usual consequence is a show trial and pre-determined punishment. While in custody at a luxury hotel Zhou has been found dead. The Party would like a finding of suicide.
Three different government teams are investigating the death. For the police Wei is dedicated to conducting a thorough investigation.
To understand what happened Chen consults with Lianping, a lovely young journalist with the Wenhui Daily. Which mystery author but Xiaolong could describe a character as:
Slender, supple, she’s so young, / the tip of a cardamom bud / in the early spring
She explains to him how blogs and forums are being used to provide news the official media is censored from providing to the Chinese people. Too often for the Party corruption is being revealed.
Net police are becoming more aggressive closing down blogs and preventing searches of politically sensitive topics. It is a new underworld to Chen.
With Zhou dead Chen cannot understand why the Party teams, suddenly augmented by another team from Bejing, are continuing to stay active. What could be dangerous if his death was murder not suicide?
Chen knows there are conflicting factions within the Party. In the never ending power struggles there are equally powerful figures who would respectively prefer murder and suicide.
While Chen wants seeks the truth he knows that major criminal investigations are resolved on the principle of what resolution will lead to a “harmonious society” in the eyes of the Party.
Will romance blossom between the poetic Chen and the high spirited Lianping? Chen’s mother longs for him to find a spouse but Lianping is being courted by a wealthy developer, Xiang. Yet how could there not be a spark when Chen and Lianping stand in a beautiful garden before a large rock engraved with the poem:
The sun is sinking behind the city wall
to the sad notes of a shining bugle.
Here in Shen Garden,
the pond and the pavilion appear
no longer to be the same,
except the heartbreaking ripples
still so green under the bridge,
the ripples that once reflected her arrival
light-footed, in such a beauty
as to shame the wild geese into fleeing.
Neither fits comfortably into current China as exemplified at a funeral:
The newly materialistic society was shaping many aspects of life according to its own terms – even things like this temple service. The more expense, the more face. That was a type of competition the Yu’s couldn’t afford, which was why Yu, a non-Buddhist, had to bring Chief Inspector Chen – supposedly a high-ranking Party official – into the scene. It was all for the sake of face. Face was an important issue to the Shanghainese.
Back to the investigation the stakes become much higher when Wei is killed. It is clear to Chen the death was not because of a drunken hit and run driver.
As Chen penetrates layers of secrecy the story rushes to a climax that turns out to be a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next book. It has been a long time since I encountered such a conclusion. Fortunately, when I bought Enigma of China I also bought Shanghai Redemption. While barely able to restrain myself I wanted to get this review written before starting Shanghai Redemption. Now with the review completed I am moments away from finding out what happened to Chen. It is a wonderful series.
Xiaolong, Qiu – (2009) - Death of a Red Heroine (Second best of 2009 fiction); (2011) - "X" is for Qui Xiaolong; (2011) - A Case for Two Cities; (2012) - "X" is for Qiu Xiaolong Again; (2012) - A Loyal Character Dancer; (2013) - Red Mandarin Dress and Reflections on red Mandarin dresses; (2015) - The Mao Case; (2016) - Don't Cry, Tai Lake and The Poetry of Pollution in Qiu Xiaolong's Fiction; (2016) - Comparing Serial Killers in Three Totalitarian States; Hardcover or paperback.