At the end of Enigma of China Chief Inspector Chen was in trouble. His determination to solve high profile crimes had “ruffled high feathers”. As Shanghai Redemption opens high ranking authorities in Shanghai have reached out to Beijing. Chen is removed from the police bureau and promoted upwards in prestige / downwards in authority. His new position is the prestigious post of Director Legal Reform. In Communist China “legal reform” is a legal fiction.
Yet Chen has taken no recent actions that would threaten a higher ranking official and his current caseload is routine. The carcasses of pigs floating down the river into Shanghai is embarrassing but tainted pork is a modest issue. A fast rising businessman, Liang, embroiled in a corruption case concerning the contracts for the furnishings of high speed trains has disappeared.
While contemplating his new Directorship Chen is invited to a book signing at the fabulously expensive Heavenly World night club. A billionaire businessman and lover of poetry has purchased 500 copies of a collection of translated poems of T.S. Elliot. Chen had contributed many of the translations. After the event Chen is lured into a private room by a pair of lovely young women - one of them scantily clad in a cat costume – intent on meeting his every desire. He is relieved to get a call from his mother that allows him to step outside the room. After leaving the club he sees members of the police morality squad entering the club. As the club ownership is well connected against such searches Chen realize that there has been a secret raid seeking to entrap him in a compromising situation.
Even more confused on why such extreme efforts are being made to target him Chen leaves for Suzhou where his father is buried. With no urgency to taking up his new position Chen, a “filial son”, decides to spend a week overseeing renovations to his father’s grave.
In a rather bizarre development a well off young woman, Qiang, having watched him in the office sees him standing in the rain and offers him a ride. During their conversation he portrays himself as a private investigator and she tentatively engages him to spy on her unfaithful boyfriend. It is one of the few scenes in the series that was not credible. Had they met and talked more plausibly her involvement would have been more believable.
Back in Shanghai a crane accident at a construction site has exposed the body of Liang and the missing person case is now a murder investigation.
Chen is drawn into Suzhou opera. The poetic traditional opera is out of favour. The leisurely paced stories which parallel North American daytime television soap operas are not appealing to fast paced modern Chinese life.
Chen can see a net closing in on him and reaches out to friends and colleagues. His connections are extensive from his years as a Chief Inspector. Many, out of respect not fear or gain, are willing to help him.
Old Hunter, the retired police officer, spends hours listening to the café gossip of kept women (ernai).
His loyal former subordinate, Yu, and his wife, Peiqin, provide assistance. In particular, Peiqin, an avid internet searcher moves swiftly to find intriguing stories before they are taken down by the Party.
Somehow the mysterious death of an American businessman in Shanghai seems related to Chen’s troubles.
It is a formidable challenge for a writer to build a believable conspiracy. They tend to spin into the incredible with shadowy figures. It is easier to create conspiracies in China where there is constant conflict among factions vying for power. With alliances shifting Chen is left scrambling to decipher clues. Even when he gets glimmers of those orchestrating the attacks upon him the why eludes Chen until the end.
While glad I read the book immediately after Enigma of China to see what happened to Chen I was a little dissatisfied at the end of Shanghai Redemption because the conclusion does not really end the story. I had not realized it was the second in what appears to be a trilogy.
I do admire Xiaolong’s continuing ability to weave politics, poetry and mystery together in his plots. It is a unique combination.