I’ve said so much about Qiu Xiaolong and his inspector Chen in other commentaries (Death of a Red Heroine, A Loyal Character Dancer), that it seems superfluous to go into much detail about either the author or his protagonist in Don’t Cry, Tai Lake. Chen is not only a detective but a poet, one who writes his own and quotes prodigiously from both Chinese and Western classical authors. He has allies in high places, but is uncomfortable with the idea of using them, preferring to just do his job. However, his job always seems to get into politics, as apparently everything in China does. We’re treated once again to an exploration of recent Chinese history and the trials of those who underwent some of the upheavals under Mao.
In Tai, Chen’s been given a vacation at a luxurious resort ordinarily reserved for “High Cadre” officials. His mentor says there are no strings attached, but he might want to just keep his eyes open in case something interesting passes in view. Of course, something does. He discovers that the lake, despite its reputation for pristine purity is polluted, and that the pollution is ongoing by a number of chemical companies surrounding it, all of who are “in compliance” with regulations via bribery and manipulation of figures. Then there’s a murder of one of the factory owners. Seemingly unrelated. Seemingly.
Though he has no jurisdiction so far from his Shanghai base, Chen gets involved, and involved as well with a woman who has been trying to expose the whole mess. She turns out to be the affair with the unattainable which Chen encounters in each novel.
Kudos to Qiu for keeping this book about the murder rather than about the pollution, unlike Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, which started out like a great book, then turned into a screed on global warning. The point about pollution and its dangers and corruption in high places gets made here, but never gets in the way of the mystery and relationships that are the proper focus of the book.
Qiu Xiaolong’s a real-deal writer, and I’m very glad to know him.