After about 50 pages I realized I'd read the book. I looked it up. It was 3 years ago. I should have grabbed another of his dozen mysteries. Well, maybe.
It turns out this novel was a refresher on the power of guanxi. Simply translated as "connections," guanxi is a crucial element that makes government and politics work in China. Chen is in a job that brings him into contact with lots of people. He's a humanitarian who often gives people breaks or does favors for them. That creates guanxi connections (people own him). He also relies on guanxi connections he's made or people who remember his father (a scholar who was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution) for information (he owes them). There's hardly a chapter in this book that doesn't illustrate one of Chen's relationships. Guanxi helps him learn how to slip by the censors on the Chinese Internet, get his mother into a hospital usually reserved for high party officials, learn what plans someone has for his career, and how to reserve a private room in a very high class restaurant. It also helps him resolve a particularly messy case.
The story seemed unreel very slowly. I don't recall feeling that when I first read it. My experiences with rereading things suggest that that kind of reaction is more a function of me as a reader than some quality of the book.
A good mystery. A good cultural introduction. It's worth reading at least once.
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- Publisher's web site
- Reviews at GoodReads
- Frank Lanfitt's review at NPR
- Doreen Sheridan's review at Criminal Element