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Review: Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong

Pages: 464

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.


Swapna said…
This one sounds interesting, even if it's predictable. Thanks for the review!

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