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Don't Cry, Tai Lake
Inspector Chen Mystery, #7
Qiu Xiaolong

Minotaur Books
May 2012 / ISBN: 0312550642
Police Procedural / China / Contemporary

Reviewed by
LJ Roberts

First Sentence: Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau found himself standing in front of the gate to the Wuxi Cadre Recreation Center.

Chief Inspector Chen Cao is surprised, pleased and a bit suspicious when he is given an unexpected vacation at a resort reserved for only those of high cadre; influence and/or power. The exclusive resort is located on the once very beautiful and pristine Tai Lake but chemical dumping and greed for wealth are changing that. One of the executives is murdered and a young woman Chen has come to know is being blamed. It is up to Chen to find the truth before she, or her friend, are taken off to prison.

With a tranquil beginning, we are immediately brought into a different world where we learn the importance of rank. Qui excels establishing a strong sense of place. From him we see, hear, smell and taste China. There are wonderful descriptions of the food, which are enhanced by stories of the history behind some of the dishes reminding us just how old is the culture of China.

Chen is fascinating and wonderful character. He’s a policeman who had no desire to be a policeman. He’s a poet and translator of books, particularly mysteries, from English into Chinese. But he is also dedicated to do his job the best he can, realizing its importance. It’s enjoyable to see the local policeman, Sergeant Haung, admiration of Chen and his comparisons of Chen to Sherlock Holmes. Chen is a man of integrity. Although he is attracted to a female character, he knows he must not violate his responsibility as a cop. Poetry and quotation have a significant place in the story. Even the love scene is lyrically described.

We learn details of its history and customs; from the “hair” salons to environmental issues of today. In particular, it is about the changing China, economics and what a company, if permitted, will do to increase its value to increase wealth for its executives. [Chen]”Why are people capable of doing anything just for the sake of money? A partial answer might be the collapse of the ethical system…” It’s prophetic in we see the result of a non-regulated industry, yet it never becomes preach-y.

It is also interesting to see the way in which now having some freedom of religion impacts the people of today’s China. We forget that religion was banned under strict communism so when two of the supporting characters attend a church service it is a new experience for them. However, there is still the strong importance of “saving face”.

There is a redundancy in the constant reminder that the complex is only for those of high cadre of a certain rank and that Chen is only there because of his connection to such a person. However, this also supports Chen’s personality that he would be very much aware of that fact.

“Don’t Cry, Tai Lake” concludes with a wonderful, touching ending. The final revelation as to the solution of the case is summed up best by Officer Huang “The clues are all there, but it takes a master to connect them,”. However, even with the murder solved, the story shows the insular nature of China against the West. I’ve enjoyed the entire series but feel this is one of Qui’s best books.


Posted 2012
© 2012