Paperback: A Case of Two Cities, By Qiu Xiaolong
Sunday 20 January 2008
The cities are Shanghai and Los Angeles, and the case is the fourth in Qiu Xialong's Inspector Chen series of mysteries, in which Chen is ordered to investigate the defection to America of a high-level party member.
As well as a Chief Inspector, Chen is a poet, translator and critic, and on this account is asked to head a delegation of writers to LA in the middle of the investigation – where he himself becomes a target.
As a detective novel this is lacking in thrills, but its pleasures lie elsewhere. A fascinating picture of the new China emerges, with its bars, brothels, black economy and nouveau riche: fast-changing yet traditional, permissive yet repressed, egalitarian yet hierarchical. It's a complex society in which connections are all-important, no one ever speaks their mind directly, and merely offering a cup of tea is fraught with significance. The gentle, erudite Chen is its ideal interpreter: he quotes Tang dynasty poets and T S Eliot with equal facility and is able to offer a Marxist interpretation of Starbucks.
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