“It is not people that make interpretations, but interpretations that make people.”
In my quest to find new and international writers to enhance my reading experience, i came across this series “An Inspector Chen Investigation” by Qiu Xiaolong – a Chinese author, born and brought up in Shanghai, with first hand experience of the cultural revolution, who is now living in US.
It’s a highly enjoyable series, if you are a culture and history buff. Though a murder mystery (as apparent from “investigation” in the title), what i enjoyed more was an insight into day-to-day life in China during early 90’s. I have travelled to China several times for work and it made me keep thinking if i encountered any of the idiosyncracies mentioned by the author in his book.
Though mystery being quite simple and predictable beyond a point in the book, it’s the discovery process that keeps you hooked on. Inspector Chen is no Sherlock, with no sudden “nirvana” moments, but this poet-policeman will keep you wanting to know more. During the reading journey, you will end up taking a pause to reflect on sociological factors like – being assigned a job by the government – which effectively takes away the choice to decide what you want to do in life, to annual quota of housing, thus assigned by work units to their workers – including police, professors and any number of government officials.
The journey through the chinese authors and poets via the chief inspector character is especially enjoyable and led me to explore more about the books and poets referred to here. It made me purchase the “The Dream of the Red Chamber” – and explore a completely different picture of Chinese societies from centuries ago.
The culinary delights mentioned, the small hawker stalls, the chinese style cooking and eating are truly an insight into how little the world knows about the true chinese cuisine and how when we say we love chinese food, we don’t even know what it truly is.
The mystery revolves around a body found in an out of the way canal, who is then identified as a party member and a Model Worker (assuming modern-day “idol”) As the plot thickens we discover that the Guan (the murdered) was a very private person and people around her had no clue about the personal aspects of her life. To lead a normal life, away from the standards imposed by the party, she has been having an extra marital affair with a HCC (High Cadre Child), who is already married.
Guan’s expecting her lover to leave his wife and marry her, when she discovers the brutal truth and depravity of this man. To avoid such unpleasant encounters, her lover takes pictures of all woman he, thus engages, in compromising positions and blackmail them to keep their mouth shut and not create trouble for him post their breakup.
Murder takes a political turn, since the party is keen to brush the whole affair under the carpet, to avoid unpleasant publicity and public unrest about the abuse of privileges by HCCs. This is where we see Inspector Chen being suspended for a short time, indirectly by assigning him non-police related conferences, entertaining foreign visitors, etc. Our protagonist, though is a tough cookie and keeps up the investigation in a clandestine way to discover proof and most importantly the motive.
Finally the murder trial is hushed and execution swift, with a very calculated media reports to show that the party will take severe steps against the “western bourgeoisie influences” on the current society leading to crime and corruption.
“Whoever fights monsters,” Nietzsche said, “should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”
More than a mystery book, it is literature, with beautiful language, making the sounds, smells and experiences surreal for the reader