So Fresh and Bloody

Caroline Fraser

  • Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong
    Sceptre, 310 pp, £7.99, July 2008, ISBN 978 0 340 93518 7

In 2006 the Wall Street Journal declared Qiu Xiaolong’s first novel, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), one of the top five ‘political novels’ of all time for its indictment of Communism. Many of the crimes in his books have their roots in the repression of the past, but Qiu’s series about Chief Inspector Chen Cao – after Death of a Red Heroine came A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006) and now Red Mandarin Dress – is actually less concerned with politics than with the contrast between victims and perpetrators. At first glance, Inspector Chen, an ‘emerging Party cadre’ and the head of a special squad investigating sensitive political cases for the Shanghai Police Bureau, is almost laughably soft-boiled and mild-mannered. Qiu was born in Shanghai and now lives in St Louis, Missouri, but Inspector Chen, an amateur poet and ‘filial son’, seems to have more in common with the heroes of British police procedurals such as P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh (also a poet) or Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford – decent sorts whose investigations invariably end with balance being restored to a fundamentally rational social order – than with the violent American breed.

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