10 August 2008

Politically Charged

Death of a Red Heroine
Qiu Xiaolong

Since the Olympics is on let me talk about this crime novel set in China.

A dead woman was discovered by unsuspecting fishermen in a canal. She turned out to be Guan Hongying, a national model worker for the Communist Party. Chief Inspector Chen Cao, head of the special squad was assigned to investigate the crime. After meticulous police work, both Chen and Detective Yu Guangming finally discovered a break in the case. Unfortunately it leads to a son of a powerful and high-ranking officer of the Communist Party.

Soon thereafter the two policemen found themselves reassigned to other police tasks. Will they let politics affect their jobs as policemen? That is the basic premise of the story.

The red heroine is a literal translation of the victim's given name Hongying.

As far as crime novels go this somehow doesn't follow the usual pattern. I mean as far as patterns I'm used to. You know, a crime is committed, suspects, red herrings, and eventual resolution. Well, there's that and yet there's more.

For one thing this is set in Beijing in the 90's. The scenario is different in a sense that it occurs in a communist territory. So Qiu ably sets the mood; what is it like to live in communist China at that time with constant references to certain events in the country's history.

The main character, Inspector Chen, is also a poet (like the author Qiu, which is pronounced as Chen). Hence, he sometimes quote Chinese poems of old when speaking to people. Or he sees the word tinted in poetry. I love that. I envy poets. I can't write a decent poem to save my life.

As far as I can tell there are no red herrings swimming at all. This is a pretty straightforward crime story. The detectives do their work and the combination of hard work and chance produce the result.

But there is a resolution. This is still a crime fiction after all.

However I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. It's a well-written story but I have to say that I was practically scanning or doing my speedreading thing, picking words until I reach a scene connected to the resolution of the crime. Bad me, I know.

It's not that it wasn't interesting. It just wasn't fast-paced enough for me. I like my crime novels teeming with both action and substance. Not that there's no action in this book, but it wasn't the kind of action I look for in a crime novel. I never felt my heart beating in rhyme with the characters in any of the circumstances present. Of course that doesn't mean the main characters were never in any danger. I just wasn't feeling it.

Still, it was good to learn a lot of things in about China and the changes happening there are felt in the characters' perceptions.

If you've read or reviewed this book do tell me so I can post a link to your review as well.

My own stupidity amazes me still. Kidding. I actually bought this book thinking this would fit my "X" Author for the A-Z Reading Challenge. Of course I neglected to take into consideration that Chinese custom of placing the surname first before the given name. So now I'm still lacking an "X" author. Hahaha!

This now falls under the "Q" Author for the A-Z Reading Challenge hosted by Joy.

Edited to add that I'll use this for the What's In A Name Challenge as well in lieu of my original choice.


  1. LOL I wouldn't call it "stupidity" regarding the "Q" Author or "X" Author confusion. I understand the Chinese custom, but here in America I have seen it in a variety of libraries under both Q and X. Maybe it's just to accommodate our ignorance. You may use it however you see fit. :)

  2. Hi Joy :) Well as I already filled in the Mr. Linky for Q I think it's but proper to leave it that way :) Besides, it would be good for me to at least know an author with a surname that starts with X :)



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