After Death of a Red Heroine, I had to get right to another Qiu Xialong and somehow A Loyal Character Dancer popped right up. We’re right back in Shanghai, of course, and we find Chief Inspector Chen enjoying a morning walk and cup of tea in Bund Park, a city center place along the confluence of two rivers. A peaceful scene right near the Peace Hotel. But the peace doesn’t last. First, there’s that body in the bushes, dressed in expensive pajamas and scored with ax wounds. Then comes the news that Chen is to play tour guide to a U.S. Marshall come to escort the wife of a man in American custody who has demanded her presence in return for his testimony against some human traffickers. Oh, and the marshal is female, and the wife has disappeared.
The dream comes lingering back to the old place
The winding verandah, he circling balustrade
A line that reflects much of Chen’s mood throughout the investigation, a dreamlike world of winding verandahs, where always the next curve hides another mystery. As in Red Heroine, Chen must balance politics with police work. The powers that be make it clear in their indirect way that they’d prefer not to find the disappearing wife, but want to make it look as if they were doing their best. The Bund Park body can wait. Marshall Catherine is a great addition to the action here. In Red Heroine, I sometimes felt that Qiu explained matters of Chinese custom and culture that a Chinese reader would just know. The American woman gives Chen someone who needs the explanations that we western readers might also require. Plus, there’s always the possibility of romance.
That’s the setup. An exciting miasma of sex, drugs, poetry, hard-nosed police work, and international political maneuvering surrounds this book, which is both a superb crime novel and much more than that. If you’ve read other Qiu works, by the way, know that Detective Yu gets a nice surprise at the end.