Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong, 2000. ISBN: 1569471932

An excellent novel by Qiu, who is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Washington and lived in China until 1990. The story is set in 1990, a year still ringing with repercussions from Tiananmen Square and in a substantially different era than the PRC today. The main character is Chen Cao, Chief Inspector, translator of English mystery novels, and poet. Chen is likeable and strong, the upright official archetype so common in Chinese stories. Chen is very multi-dimensional, though; ambiguous about love, worried about his job, uneasy and human. Chen is drawn into a homicide case involving a celebrity Model Worker, though naturally it gets far more complicated than that. Qiu does an excellent job of fully describing the ambiguity of the situations and the politics of Party and justice. The story wanders a bit, overshadowed by the Cultural Revolution and interspersed with poetry, but the pace suits the material and the setting--mostly Shanghai, where the fog sometimes seems to weight everything down unbearable. But there are light moments too, as well as tenderness--Qiu is an excellent writer of the human heart. The author also provides an ending that I think will be satisfying to most readers, even though it's no Hollywood ending.

The book was written in English and is highly readable. Recommended to mystery-readers, who will find it a literary cut above the usual best-sellers, and to those interested in modern China. I'll be waiting for Qiu's next book, for sure.

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