Original date of publication: 2000
My edition: 2000 (Soho Crime)
Why I decided to read: I needed an X author for the A to Z Challenge
How I acquired my copy: Amazon, January 2011
On May 11, 1990, the body of a well-known national model worker is found in an out-of-the-way canal in Shanghai. Chief Inspector Chen Cao (a poet and translator in addition to being a detective) is called in to investigate. At first it looks as though this isn’t a politically-motivated crime, but the case soon leads Chen and his partner, Yu, to suspect a well-known photographer and son of one of the old high-powered cadres.
Death of a Red Heroine is a little bit outside the realm of mysteries I normally read. I’m unfamiliar with the setting (1990 China), so the fact that the author intersperses bits of 20th century Chinese history into the story was a great help to me. I liked how the author managed to interweave history with fiction to create believable characters with believable motives, highlighting the fact that Chen is a victim of Party politics himself. I also liked how poetry is sprinkled into the story, but sometimes I felt as though it was a bit too much and added very little to the plot of the novel—except to prove how well-read in Chinese and English literature everyone in the novel seems to be.
However, Chen’s interest in English and American literature makes him a standout among other fictional detectives, a three-dimensional character with interests outside of his work. Also interesting is his personal life—his relationship with an old girlfriend from the past (sadly not well-developed) and his budding relationship with a young reporter.
As a mystery, however, the book suffers from freshman syndrome. The plot is a little bit predictable, but I enjoyed how the story was wrapped up in the end. This is a solid, enjoyable mystery, and I’m looking forward to seeing more character development in the other books in the series.