The Mao Case, By Qiu Xiaolong

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The Independent Culture

The sixth in Qiu Xialong's Inspector Chen series, The Mao Case is the usual enjoyable mix of murder, poetry and contradictions of contemporary Chinese culture. Chen is asked by the Party to secretly investigate the whereabouts of a mysterious object that the granddaughter of one of Mao's old lovers is thought to possess. The carefully schizoid attitude to Mao is evident: all Chinese deplore the brutalities of the Cultural Revolution, but it's not allowed to blame Mao. Chen himself, no lover of Mao, rebukes a taxi-driver for speaking ill of him.

Simultaneously, Chen is involved in another, more public case: a girl is found murdered in the garden of an elderly Shanghai painter who holds 1930s-themed parties where the guests indulge in nostalgia for pre-Revolutionary times.

The pace is slow at times, and the final showdown resembles a Laurel and Hardy slapstick scene. But Chen is a splendid creation, with his facility in quoting Tang Dynasty poetry and TS Eliot, his quiet devotion to his duty, his unhappy love life and his appreciation of good food.