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En röd hjältinnas död by Xiaolong Qiu

En röd hjältinnas död (original 2000; edition 2004)

by Xiaolong Qiu

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917509,569 (3.77)121
Title:En röd hjältinnas död
Authors:Xiaolong Qiu
Info:Stockholm: Ordfront, 2004 453, [1] s. ; 18 cm [Ny utg.]
Collections:Your library, Allt annat
Tags:fiction, china, mystery, shanghai

Work details

Death of a Red Heroine by Xiaolong Qiu (2000)

  1. 01
    The Flower Net by Lisa See (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: These books have a similar setting and time period and will probably appeal to the same readers.
  2. 01
    Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Klassiker der chinesischen Literatur. Wird gerne in den Romanen von Qiu Xiaolong zitiert. Ist das Lieblingsbuch der Frau des Assistenten von Inspector Chen. Unbedingt lesenswert - beide!

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Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
On finishing this book, I closed it feeling satisfied. This is generally all I ask of a book, but if I think back, I also remember that it took a good 200 pages for this book to get rolling and for me to really become interested and vested in it.

Part of this is probably do to the fact that I only have a loose understanding of the events surrounding the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent Party politics that play an important part in this book. But it also just has a slow start, which isn't helped a lot by the rather dry tone Chinese literature always seems to have.

In the end, however, what I liked so much about the book is that it's about good men trying, against almost impossible odds, to be good men. I don't mean John McClane type heros, but ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.

Chen, the main character is a coming to terms with the fact that his life has not turned out the way he hoped. He shows a consistent moral mettle that is impossible not to respect. His partner, Yu, is a man who was given very few choices in life but his dedication to both his job, doing the right thing and his wife are heart melting. It was these men and their character that carried the day for me. I'm glad to have read the book.
( )
  SadieSForsythe | Feb 24, 2016 |
Loved this book. For all of the trappings of Communism beginning to add private enterprise, the book showed that people are pretty much the same and that only the context is different. ( )
  Maya47Bob46 | Feb 7, 2016 |
The rain has soaked the hair
Falling to your shoulders
Light green in your policewoman’s
Uniform, like the spring
White blossom bursting
From your arms reaching
Into the gaping windows -
‘Here you are!’

About the last thing I expected from this detective novel was a poetry-spouting Chief Inspector.

Chen not only recites classical Chinese poetry but is himself a published poet – as well as a translator of western poems and even mysteries. And he is a bit of a gourmet as well.

I love when writers detail meals. All too often I read of how characters ‘sat down to dinner’ and I’m just dying to know, yes but what exactly did they eat??

So when we first meet Chief Inspector Chen as he is prepping for a housewarming dinner at his new apartment, I am delighted:

“For the main dishes, there were chunks of pork stomach on a bed of green napa, thin slices of smoked carp spread on fragile leaves of jicai, and steamed peeled shrimp with tomato sauce. There was also a platter of eels with scallions and ginger, which he had ordered from a restaurant. He had opened a can of Meiling steamed pork, and added some green vegetables to it to make another dish. On the side, he placed a small dish of sliced tomatoes, and another of cucumbers. When the guests arrived, a soup would be made from the juice of the canned pork and canned pickle.”

It sounds like an interesting mix of gourmet and simple homecooked dishes, which reflects on the character of Inspector Chen. An educated man and a published poet who attended the Beijing Foreign Language College, he then heads the Shanghai Police Bureau’s Special Case Squad, a job that seems to be a bit at odds with his more intellectual, thoughtful personality.

But of course his insightfulness is key to this case.

“She had been lying there, abandoned, naked, her long dark hair in a coil across her throat, like a snake, in full view of two strangers, only to be carried away on a stretcher by a couple of white uniformed men, and in time, opened up by an elderly medical man who examined her insides, mechanically, and sewed the body together again before it was finally sent to the mortuary. And all that time Chief Inspector Chen had been celebrating in his new apartment, having a housewarming party, drinking, dancing with a young woman reporter, talking about Tang dynasty poetry, and stepping on her bare toes.”

Essentially, there is a dead woman whose body has been unceremoniously dumped in a garbage bag and tossed into a canal. It turns out that she is a celebrity in the political sense, as she is National Model Worker Guan Hongying, chosen as a role model by the Party. There soon emerges to be even greater political implications in this case, and Chen – as well as his subordinate Detective Yu – is forced to choose between doing what’s right for the case and the victim, or what’s right as determined by the Party.

Politics is at the heart of this story.

“‘Everything can be seen in terms of politics,’ Chen got up, pausing in the doorway, ‘but politics is not everything.’
Such talk was possible now, though hardly regarded as in good taste politically. There had been opposition to Chen’s attaining promotion – something expressed by his political enemies when they praised him as ‘open’, and by his political friends when they wondered if he was too open.”

There are High Cadres who are at the top of the ladder, and their privileged children, the High Cadre Children (HCC), who have fancy cars and live in large mansions and all those other aspects of an extravagant lifestyle. While Chen is himself a rising star (although his artistic side leads to some doubts) and has a new apartment to himself, he ranks far below these HCs and HCCs. And all of this contrasts with the life of the victim Guan, who despite her ‘celebrity’ status lived in a dormitory:

“A closer examination revealed many signs of neglect characteristic of such dorm buildings: gaping windows, scaling cement, peeling paint, and the smell from the public bathroom permeating the corridor. Apparently each floor shared only one bathroom. And a quarter of the bathroom had been redesigned with makeshift plastic partitions into a concrete shower area.”

Death of a Red Heroine was steeped in such vivid details of everyday life in 1990s Shanghai, both the lives of regular folk and of the privileged, sometimes surprisingly seedy.

I have to add a note of warning to those expecting a fast-paced, exciting crime/mystery novel. This isn’t quite that. The case moves a little slowly, not just because of all that politicking going on, but because the detectives take buses, they do research at the public library, and towards the end, are forced to surreptitiously pass information to each other. It’s complicated, but the book still flows well despite its length (464 pages).

I had a great time with this book, reading some bits of classic Chinese poetry, learning about life in 1990s China, and best of all, learning about the diverse cuisine of China. Although I am ethnically Chinese, Chinese food in Singapore is probably different from that of China (I can’t say for sure, as I’ve never been). Like the ‘across-the-bridge noodles’ (过桥米线 or guòqiáo mĭxiàn) that Detective Yu’s wife Peiqin cooks for Inspector Chen, essentially a platter of rice noodles served along with side dishes like slivers of pork, fish and vegetables, and of course some steaming hot soup.

The story behind the noodles, according to the book, was that during the Qing Dynasty, a scholar studied on an island, his wife had to carry his meals across a long bridge and when it reached him, the noodles were cold and soggy. So the next time, she kept the noodles separate and only mixed them when with her husband. A recipe can be found here.

I’m looking forward to the next Inspector Chen book, and can only hope that there will be plenty of foodie details to chow on.

This review was first posted on my blog Olduvai Reads ( )
  olduvai | Jan 19, 2016 |
Two old friends who haven't met for twenty years go fishing in a canal and discover the body of a young woman wrapped up in plastic. The case is assigned to Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police and his lieutenant Detective Yu Guangming. Chen and Yu are informed that the case has political implications and so they are going to be advised by an older party cadre. From the beginning interference comes from every one of their political superiors. They assemble irrefutable evidence that the person responsible for the murder is an HCC (High Cadre Children) who is the son of a well known older party member. Even at that stage attempts are made to move them in a different direction. Both are assigned to new investigations and both seem to be in real danger of losing their jobs. Set in the critical early years of the transition of China from communism to capitalism everything is justified in terms of "for the sake of the Party". Chen and Yu get frustrated because they can't bring the murderer to justice.

This is the first book in the Inspector Chen Cao series, set in Shanghai in the 1990s. Chen Cao is a sensitive, poetry loving, yet tough-minded police inspector who wants to do a good job but is hamstrung by the rules he must live with. The Chinese setting gives the reader a mix of historical fiction and political/social observation. Chen is a wonderfully developed character and I liked him enough to purchase the next in the series, Loyal Character Dancer. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jan 17, 2016 |
A little slow paced sometimes but a very good novel. It does make me glad that I don't live in a society that is so thought controlled, or at least was during the period from 1949 until recently. ( )
  Superenigmatix | Jan 16, 2016 |
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Deep as the Peach Blossom Lake can be,
it is not so deep as the song you sing for me.
— Li Bai
For Lijun
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The body was found at 4:40 P.M., on May 11, 1990, in Baili Canal, an out-of-the-way canal, about twenty miles to the west of Shanghai.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In this Anthony Award-winning debut, Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police must find the murderer of a National Model worker, and then risk his own life and career to see that justice is done.
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When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chief Inspector Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead. When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case.… (more)

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