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Speaker of Mandarin: An Inspector Wexford…

Speaker of Mandarin: An Inspector Wexford Mystery (edition 2012)

by Ruth Rendell (Author)

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473434,265 (3.62)9
There were some things about Chief Inspector Wexford's trip to China that he could never have dreamt of. That an old woman would haunt him from one city to the next. That a man would be tragically drowned. Or that, back in England, he would be investigating the murder of one of his fellow tourists.
Title:Speaker of Mandarin: An Inspector Wexford Mystery
Authors:Ruth Rendell (Author)
Info:Fawcett (2012), 213 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Speaker of Mandarin by Ruth Rendell

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Part one of Speaker of Mandarin (chapters one-through six) is about Inspector Wexford's trip to China. I did feel for the man having a guide who wants him to see parts of modern China when he wants to see its past. Remembering the humidity of a Maryland summer made me sorry for the very high heat and humidity Wexford endures during the trip. Part One does contain a death that could have been an accident or a murder, but Wexford doesn't help the local police with their investigation. He might have offered his services had they spoken English or he Chinese. This section is interesting in itself and some of the cast in part one have important roles in part two, which takes place in England. It's June in part one, while the murder in part two happens during October.

As is usual in the Inspector Wexford mysteries I've read so far, what seem to be answers may not be.

I enjoyed finding out the explanation for why Wexford kept seeing an elderly woman with bound feet during his trip, although two aspects of the explanation were disturbing. Two members of a tour with whom Wexford shares part of his Chinese journey aren't speaking to each other by the time he meets them. No one will explain what happened. When he does find out the reason during his investigation of the murder in England, my sympathies were definitely with one man over the other. Wexford's experiences with the possibly-nymphomaniac tour member are the kind that a person might be able to chuckle about later -- quite a bit later.

It's nice that Inspector Burden's second wife is broadening his mind with reading, etc., but I still don't like the guy. Good thing for murder victims that they have Wexford, not Burden, in charge. Yes, Wexford does tend to get obsessed about some of his cases, but since he does find the killer(s), it would be nice if those obsessions would be taken more seriously.


If you are curious about foot binding, there are photographs of bare bound feet available online. I first saw one years ago, in an article about how modern high heels deform feet. It was appalling to think about the centuries' worth of Chinese women who had endured a practice that limited their feet to about three to five inches in length and a lifetime of pain, infection, and disability. Worse was just learning that some remote areas carried on that practice after it was officially banned in 1912 and the Communist Party's more effective outlawing in 1949. If you have a weak stomach, don't try to find those photos.

The story that Wexford remembers in chapter 4, 'The Upper Berth' by F. [Francis] Marion Crawford, is indeed unpleasant. I've read it in more than one anthology of ghost stories. You may read it here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22246/22246-h/22246-h.htm (Personally, you couldn't have gotten me into that stateroom after the second night.)

J. [Joseph Thomas] Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Carmilla' and 'Green Tea' are both available in In a Glass Darkly. 'Carmilla' is a justly famous vampire novella. It has been anthologized often enough that there was a point in my life when I would groan as I opened a new collection of supernatural stories and saw it listed in the table of contents. 'Green Tea' I had not read before. You may read them both here: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks07/0700861h.html#s1

The M. R.[Montague Rhodes] James story that Wexford doesn't finish in chapter six is 'Count Magnus,' available in both Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (the Dover edition includes illustrations) and The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James, a book I first encountered the summer after 5th grade. The book frightened me so much that I was 18 before I could bring myself to read all of the stories. I'm glad there's a kindle edition available of of my favorite, the illustrated and annotated A Pleasing Terror: the Complete Supernatural Writings of M. R. James because the Ash Tree Press edition is out of print. I've seen "Count Magnus" in more anthologies than most of his other stories.
You may read it here: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/james/mr/antiquary/chapter6.html

The face flannels mentioned in chapter 9 are what we Americans call 'washcloths'. ( )
1 vote JalenV | Apr 19, 2015 |
So-so mystery. Interesting character studies, as usual. ( )
  piemouth | May 31, 2010 |
This was the first Inspector Wexford mystery that I’ve read, and I plan to seek out more. I picked this one up for the storyline that involved the familiar culture clash between the just post-Cultural Revolution era China and the English speaking west. The main character is a thoughtful and erudite Brtish detective. The book contains all the genre landmarks: several dead bodies, hallucinations, examinations of social class, and a solution that stays convincingly hidden till the last couple pages.
  Ling.Lass | Nov 21, 2008 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rendell, Ruthprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Biasi, DiegoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eräpuro, AnnikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacono, CarloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larsson, NilsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montiel, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toledo, Regine deCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The perfectly preserved body of the woman they call the Marquise of Tai lay, sheathed in glass, some feet below them on the lower level.
[Wexford is tired of his Chinese guide giving him lectures on Chinese political structure.]
In order to get his visa, he had to put down on his application form his religion and politics. He had selected, not without humour, the most stolid options: Conservative, Church of England. Sometimes he wondered if these reactionary entries had been made known by a form of red grapevine to his guide. (chapter 2)

For the transcribing of Chinese words and Chinese proper names into English I have used both the Wade-Giles and the Pinyin systems. While Pinyin is the officially endorsed system in the People's Republic, Wade-Giles, which was evolved in the nineteenth century, remains more familiar to Western readers. So I have used each where I have felt it to be more appropriate and acceptable, e.g., the modern Pinyin for Lu Xing She, the Chinese International Travel Service, but Ching rather than Xing for the name of the last imperial dynasty, and I have used Mao Tse Tung in preference to the Pinyin Mao Zedong. (p. 9)
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