With When Red is Black, Qiu, a Chinese expatriate, publishes his third mystery featuring the poetry-writing Chief Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police Bureau. This installment focuses on Chen’s underling, Detective Yu, who must investigate the murder of a prickly best-selling novelist and dissident. Chen, meanwhile, keeps busy with a side project that involves translating documents for a real estate company. Coincidence soon draws Chen back into Yu’s investigation. As his characters experience romance, personal misfortune, and false leads, Qiu fleshes out the effects of the Cultural Revolution on each of them.
Consortium. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 1569473692
"Sublime. … [There is] much more than the solution to the murder here. When Red is Black offers a complex and riveting portrait of Shanghai, a city in transition from a proletarian dictatorship to a capitalist playground where ‘nostalgia sells.’" Maureen Corrigan
New Orleans Times-Pcyne
"The plot’s not the thing here; what makes this book and Qiu’s other work so compelling is the feel of the streets and the peek into the homes and lives of the people—from all the levels of Chinese society—who fill them." Diana Pinckley
"There’s no violence or derring-do, just patient sifting through evidence and tracing of leads. But it makes for fascinating reading." Frank Wilson
Rocky Mountain News
"Qiu shows us how ordinary citizens grapple with the intransigence of life in China, and also gives us a story with literary flavor. ... His perspective on China gives the mystery genre a cultural twist and unusual direction that make his books unique and well worth reading." Jane Dickinson
"Qiu seems as if he’s already growing tired of the two detectives; there’s a languor to their actions as well as to the writing, which is not nearly as sexy and adventurous as in Death of a Red Heroine. … Still, Qiu delivers more than the great majority of his Western counterparts." Ed Siegel
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"My disappointment with When Red is Black is that the ‘mystery’ element of the novel just isn’t there. Read When Red is Black for insights into understanding today’s Shanghai and China, not for an edge-of-the-seat thriller, and you’ll not be disappointed." Repps Hudson
Qiu, born in Shanghai and now residing in St. Louis, made a splashing debut in 2000 with the award-winning Death of a Red Heroine. Critical response differs for his third Inspector Chen mystery. Some offered effusive praise for Qiu’s poetic literary style and sociological flavor, reflecting on China with both respect and sorrow. Others wondered why this plodding book was shelved in the mystery section. Hard-boiled mystery lovers may want to take a pass; those intrigued by the culture in China and the right expectations for this mystery will be satisfied.
Also in the Series
Death of a Red Heroine | Qiu Xiaolong (2001): The first in Xialong’s Inspector Chen Cao series mixes politics and police work when the body of a young woman, a National Model Worker and strong supporter of the Communist Party, is murdered.
A Loyal Character Dancer | Qiu Xiaolong (2002): A former dancer and party loyalist, the wife of a witness in a criminal trial, disappears. Inspector Chen and U.S. Marshal Catherine Rohn attempt to find her.