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Snake Agent by Liz Williams
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    Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone (LongDogMom)
    LongDogMom: Both feature unusual supernatural mysteries
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Snake Agent is a combination of so many great things that it would be really hard not to find at least one or two things to like.
At its core it is an urban fantasy set in near future that takes place in Singapore. Number three. You see there are more of those and this one is just as crowded and corrupted as any other.

Then it's science fiction. People use something called bioweb, and a young person can earn a lot of money acting as nexus. This is not just thrown in there just for the sake of info dumping. All throughout the book, there are mentions of bioweb and biolinks, and they do have an important place in the story.

Then you get a bit of a horror too (lower levels of Hell sound interesting). Not as much as I'd like, but the possibilities for future books are there. It seems that every place in one realm has its correlating place in others. They are not identical though.

You even get a bit of romance, but I'd rather it didn't. While I do read romance, this book honestly didn't need it at all.

The world-building is extraordinary. Hell, Heaven and Earth are connected. It doesn't matter if there are some who don't believe in afterlife, the afterlife is there anyway. You need immigration visas to enter those realms if you are alive. Hell has its own ministries: War, Flesh, Earthquakes, Epidemics, Lust and so on. There are agents working on all three sides, though the Celestial one was neglected in this book. Not a great loss because you get to meet the Vice Division agent Zhu Irzh. 'That uncomfortable, nagging, sensation was back. He'd suffered from this on and off since childhood, like the prick of a pin inside his mind, and had even gone so far as t visit a remedy maker. What had the old man called it? Conscience, or some such - a human disease, anyway, and there was apparently nothing that could be done about it.' The protagonist Detective Inspector Wei Chen, protege of a goddess Kuan Yin and someone who is connected to both Earth and Hell, ends up working with a demon cop. ' "You don't really want to do this, Zhu Irzh." "Are you accusing me of having principles?" the demon said, outraged.'A young girl died and her mother found out that she ended up in Hell. 'Usually, if you die in a normal manner, an officer comes to you with a warrant, and takes you to the Night Harbor, which is where the boat leaves for the other worlds.' Chen would soon realize that ghost's disappearance is only a small piece of a greater and much more dangerous puzzle.
The protagonists are not the only colourful characters in this book. I loved the First Lord of Banking, the demon lord who gave Zhu Irzh the assignment.
There are those that grow and change in the book like Sargent Ma, who has to overcome his upbringing even to speak to Chan because of his connection to Hell.

And, now the nitpicks: I hate love triangles with passion and there was this cloud of one threatening my reading experience for quite a large part of the book. The resolution was tepid at best ('oh, now that I've mentioned something like that, I'll just add or mention another character') and the worst thing about it is that it doesn't add anything to the story. It's not a game changer. Fortunately, it's not that pronounced.
Then there is the might leave for my lover's good trope. That too was just swept under the rug. Unnecessary also.

I loved this book and I haven't even scratched the surface here.
( )
  Irena. | Apr 6, 2015 |
I read this back in 2006 and just reread it for a review for a reissue.

here is the original review I had on my journal.

Well reading the short story that composes part of this novel sent me reading the full length novel ASAP. I had it but had been saving it. I don't know why I do that but sometimes I do, silly yes I know. Well I liked it so much that I got the paperback so I could finish reading it on the plane without dragging the hardcover with me and having something happen to it. I really like the world setup in this. The in depth setup of the underworld's government and dealings was wonderful. As much as I liked Chen, the hero I really liked Zhu Irzh, the cop from the underworld. He almost seems to be more of a fish out of water than Chen. Of course it is just manifesting with him versus Chen who has been dealing with being on the fringe for a long time. Now to find where I left the sequel somewhere around the house.

And now reading it 7 years later it was just as fun and now I want to dive right back into this world. ( )
  Glennis.LeBlanc | Jul 8, 2014 |
Decent writing and a novel concept, that the substance between one world and the next are infinitely thinner than we could ever imagine them to be.

The detective story itself is a bit blasé, but the colorful cast of characters and scenery that envelopes the reader is thrilling. There's more backstory I'd like to hear about Detective Inspector Chen (and his wife), so I guess you might say I'm looking forward to the next book.

The backdrop of modern China also leads this American reader to feel like I'm exploring a place not just supernatural, but exotic.

(This review is based on an advance review copy supplied through NetGalley by the publisher.) ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
This is a mystery/fantasy novel, set more or less in the Chinese pantheon. The Chinese concepts of Heaven and Hell don't map exactly onto the Western concepts, so this makes for a nicely off-kilter setting. The protagonist, Chen Wei, is a detective inspector in Singapore 3, in a reality not quite ours. He solves cases which involve incursions into the human realm from either Heaven or Hell, with the occasional assistance of Kuan Yin. As goddess of mercy, she has compassion on all victims, but as a goddess, her decisions on who receives compassion don't always make sense to humans.

Chen is trying to figure out who is mis-routing souls who should be in Heaven to Hell, and finds himself working in tandem with a demon who is trying to find out who is creating problems for his patron noble. As Chen starts putting the pieces together, he finds himself hiding out in Hell. In the meantime, his wife is kidnapped, Kuan Yin stops speaking to him, and his demonic "partner" clearly has his own agenda.

I enjoyed this, and immediately ordered the next volume in the series from interlibrary loan. ( )
  teckelvik | Aug 31, 2013 |
An enjoyable first foray into a fantastic alternative world, in which the realms of heaven, hell, and earth - and their inhabitants - are closely linked in an unending dance of conflict, confrontation, and negotiation. On earth, in the city of Singapore Three, Detective Inspector Chen Wei is the police department's specialist in mystical investigation. When a case involving the ghost of a young girl - meant for the Celestial Shores, but somehow trapped in Hell instead - comes to his attention, Chen finds himself caught up in a shadowy conspiracy involving the theft of innocent souls, and the creation of a sinister new drug. Now, with the help of Seneschal Zhu Irzh, of Hell's Vice Squad, Chen must confront the immensely powerful Ministry of Epidemics, with the safety of his own demon-wife Inari, as well as the balance of the Tao itself, at stake...

I found Snake Agent, the first of Liz Williams' Detective Inspector Chen Novels, to be an engaging story - highly readable, with interesting characters. Chen was likable, if a little bland, and Zhu Irzh was entertaining, in that "seductive sophisticate with a well-hidden heart" kind of way. I know that some thought Inari's characterization was somewhat lacking, but I myself found her sympathetic and believable - she was a being out of her depth, struggling to do the best she could with the circumstances in which she found herself. Her guardian teapot-badger was completely adorable - particularly as he remained (cat-like) aloof and unknowable.

I wouldn't say that this was a terribly well-written book, as I found the narrative somewhat uneven, but there were moments where I needed to stop and reread some particular passage, and think about what Williams was saying. When she writes: "Yet Chen suspected that Hell lay somewhere contained in the group soul of a people, delineating its pathways in accordance with their dominant beliefs," I found myself nodding in agreement. It is clear that the author worked many Taoist and Buddhist beliefs into her story, but as someone with only a passing familiarity with those religions, I am unable to really comment on her understanding of them, although I definitely feel that they gave the story added intellectual depth.

My only real complaint lies in the occasional feeling, especially when her characters comment disparagingly about western beliefs, that Williams intruded too much on her narrative. But that is a minor irritation, and all in all, I am glad to have read this, and thank my friend Sherri for recommending it ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Jul 16, 2013 |
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Hanging by his heels and twisting slowly in the draught that slipped beneath the crimson door, Detective Inspector Chen tried desperately to attract the demon's attention.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159780018X, Hardcover)

You were supposed to go to Heaven, but ended up in one of the many Chinese hells instead. Who you gonna call? Nobody, you're dead. Luckily, in future Singapore, Detective Chen is on the case. Specializing in supernatural crimes, Chen finds himself in hell teaming up with a demon cop to solve the mystery, return a lost soul to its rightful reward, and restore harmony between Heaven and Earth.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:47:49 -0400)

In a near future that allows travel between Heaven and Hell and Earth, "snake agent" Chen finds himself in hot pursuit of ghost-girl, Pearl Tang, and the father who murdered her to protect his business of "supplying the souls of the virtuous to Hell". Chen is not only a crack paranormal crime investigator but also a licensed feng shui practitioner never without his compass.… (more)

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