What’s it like to be a cop, or even just live, in modern China? These Chinese detective stories will give you a taste, and different experience.
I love listening to audio books. Helps pass the time while exercising, stuck in traffic, or waiting for doctor’s appointments.
One of my favorite genre is the police procedural or crime mystery, particularly from abroad. In recent years, I have enjoyed Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, and a whole range of Scandinavian stories. These include Sweden’s Kurt Wallander and Erlendur Sveinsson from Reykjavik. I very much enjoy books set in places we have visited.
Last year, I discovered some Chinese detective stories set in Beijing and Shanghai. First came Death of a Red Heroine, the first in a series of procedural featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao. Author Qiu Xiaolong is a poet and novelist born in Shanghai and now living in St. Louis. You will find nine books in the Inspector Chen series; I am slowly working through these now.
And then, there’s Scottish author Peter May. He is a prolific television script writer and novelist. I just finished reading all six books in his China Thrillers series. The unlikely heroes are Detective Li Yin and an american pathologist Margaret Campbell living in China. May did a lot of research to get the forensic details right, as well as developed a good understanding of Chinese Culture.
As a sign of his prowess, Peter May is the only westerner to be invited to join the Chinese Crime Writer’s Association.
Chinese Detective Stories – Love the Context
If you are interested in modern China, you will love these books, whose underlying theme is the transition from old to new. Death of a Red Heroine delves deeply into the changes in Shanghai during the 1990’s. Several of the China Thrillers compare and contrast social settings in Shanghai versus Beijing.
Having visited both these cities recently brings these stories to life for me. In particular, the detectives racing through the streets and neighborhoods in Shanghai seemed to visit all the places I had discovered.
Another underlying theme is dealing with “the Party” while trying to do your job as a policeman.
If you enjoy police procedural novels, spend some time in China.