In May's rewarding third mystery to feature American pathologist Margaret Campbell and Chinese deputy section chief Li Yan (after 2007's The Fourth Sacrifice), 18 women's bodies-or at least pieces of them-turn up buried at a Shanghai building site. A creepy medical student working as a night watchman on the site is a logical suspect, but he appears innocent-at least of these crimes. Campbell coaxes the identities of four of the women from their body fragments, and each is a poignant yet apparently unrelated story. Campbell also discovers a grisly fact: all the victims had some or all of their internal organs removed-while they were still alive. May offers a little politics, a little romance and a lot of autopsy details, perhaps too much for some, though they are clearly conveyed and pertinent to the case. The plot skips here and there, with some surprising revelations leading to a slightly predictable but gratifying finale. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Killing Room (China Thrillers Series #2)by Peter May
When the mutilated and dismembered bodies of eighteen women are discovered in a mass grave in Shanghai, Li is sent to establish if the corpses relate to an unsolved murder in Beijing, and finds the most horrifying catalogue of killings ever uncovered in the Middle Kingdom. Once more, Margaret's mercurial relationship with Li threatens their professional
When the mutilated and dismembered bodies of eighteen women are discovered in a mass grave in Shanghai, Li is sent to establish if the corpses relate to an unsolved murder in Beijing, and finds the most horrifying catalogue of killings ever uncovered in the Middle Kingdom. Once more, Margaret's mercurial relationship with Li threatens their professional collaboration. Margaret, having just suffered the heartbreak of burying her father, arrives in Shanghai to find her partnership with Li threatened by another woman. Born in the Year of the Tiger, Mei-Ling seems to have her claws firmly fixed in Li. How can Margaret, a mere "foreign devil,” compete with Mei-Ling, deputy head of Shanghai's serious crime squad? But when it becomes clear that the murdered women have been subjected to "live" autopsies, the three realize they are tracking a monster. And the closer they get to this ruthlessly cold-blooded killer, the closer they come to realizing their own personal nightmares.
During the ceremony to begin construction on a joint Chinese-American project in Shanghai, the earth gives way, exposing the mutilated bodies of 18 young women. Beijing Deputy Section Chief Li Yan is sent to investigate, and he requests that internationally known pathologist Margaret Campbell assist with the autopsies. Suspenseful plot twists and turns, the beautifully depicted Chinese culture, and the unresolved relationship of Li and Campbell make this an essential read. While there are other mysteries using modern China as a setting, none is as provocative as May's series (The Firemaker; The Fourth Sacrifice). Highly recommended for all mystery collections.
Jo Ann Vicarel
Read an Excerpt
The Killing Room
By May, Peter St. Martin's Minotaur
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Deputy Section Chief Li.” The defense lawyer spoke slowly, as if considering every syllable. “There is no doubt that if one compares these shoe prints with the photographs of the footprints taken at the scene of the murder, one would be led to the conclusion that they were made by the same pair of shoes.” Photographs of the footprints and the corresponding shoe prints were laid out on the table in front of him.
Li Yan nodded cautiously, uncertain where this was leading, aware of the judge watching him closely from the bench opposite, a wily, white-haired veteran languishing thoughtfully in his winter blue uniform beneath the red, blue, and gold crest of the Ministry of Public Security. The scribble of the clerk’s pen was clearly audible in the silence of the packed courtroom.
“Which would further lead one to the conclusion that the owner of these shoes was, at the very least, present at the crime scene—particularly in light of the prosecution’s claim that traces of the victim’s blood were also found on the shoes.” The lawyer looked up from his table and fixed Li with a cold stare. He was a young man, in his early thirties, about the same age as Li, one of a new breed of lawyers feeding off the recent raft of legislation regulating the burgeoning Chinese justice system. He was sleek, well-groomed, prosperous. A dark Armani suit, a crisp white, button-down designer shirt andsilk tie. And he was brimming with a self-confidence that made Li uneasy. “Would you agree?”
“I’m sorry, did you speak?”
“No, I nodded my agreement.” Irritation in Li’s voice.
“Then please speak up, Deputy Section Chief, so that the clerk can note your comments for the record.” The Armani suit’s tone was condescending, providing the court with the erroneous impression that the police officer in the witness stand was a rank novice.
Li bristled. This was a cut-and-dried case. The defendant had come in from the countryside claiming to be looking for work in Beijing. He had broken into a home in the northeast of the city, and when the occupant, an elderly widow, had startled him, had stabbed her to death. There had been copious amounts of blood. The next day the warden at a workers’ hostel had called the local public security bureau to report that one of his residents had returned in the middle of the night covered in what looked like blood. By the time the police got there, the defendant had somehow managed to dispose of his bloodstained clothes and showered himself clean. No murder weapon was recovered, but a pair of his shoes matched prints left in blood at the scene, and forensics found traces of the victim’s blood in the treads. Li wondered why this supercilious defense lawyer seemed so confident. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
“You would further agree, then, that the owner of these shoes was most probably the perpetrator of the crime.”
“I would.” Li spoke clearly, so that there could be no ambiguity.
“So what leads you to believe that my client was the perpetrator?”
Li frowned. “They’re his shoes.”
“They were found in his room at the hostel. Forensic examination found traces of the victim’s blood in the treads, and footwear impressions taken from them provided an exact match with the prints found at the scene.”
“So where are they?” The lawyer’s eyes held Li in their unwavering gaze.
For the first time Li’s own confidence began to falter. “Where are what?”
“The shoes.” This delivered with an affected weariness. “You can’t claim to have found a pair of shoes in my client’s room tying him to a crime scene and then fail to produce them as evidence.”
Li felt a hot flush rising on his cheeks. He glanced toward the procurator’s table, but the prosecutor’s eyes were firmly fixed on papers in front of him. “After forensics had finished with them, they were logged and tagged and—”
“I ask again,” the lawyer interrupted, raising his voice, a voice of reason asking a not unreasonable question. “Where are they?”
“They were sent down to the procurator’s office as exhibits for the court.”
“Then why are they not here for us all to see?”
Li glanced at the procurator again, only this time it was anger that colored his face. Clearly the prosecution’s failure to produce the shoes had been well aired before Li had even been called to give evidence. He was being made to look like an idiot. “Why don’t you ask the procurator?” His voice was taut with tension.
“I already did. He says that his office never received them from your office.”
A hubbub of excited speculation buzzed around the public benches. The clerk issued a curt warning for members of the public to remain silent or be expelled from the court. Li knew perfectly well that the shoes, along with all the other evidence, had been dispatched to the procurator’s office. But he also knew that there was nothing he could say or do here in the witness box that could prove it. He felt every eye in the court upon him.
“Surely, Deputy Section Chief, it must be obvious even to you, that without the shoes my client has no case to answer?”
Li closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
Through glass doors, past a row of potted plants, Li started angrily down the steps toward the car park. The procurator chased after him, clutching a thick folder of documents. Above them rose the five stories of Central Beijing Middle Court. To their left, armed officers guarded the vehicle entrance to the holding cells, and a red Chinese flag hung limp in the winter sun over the Ministry of Public Security’s crest of justice. Justice! Li thought not. He pulled on a greatcoat over his green uniform and hauled a peaked cap down over his flattop crew cut. His breath billowed before him like dragon fire in the cold morning air.
“I’m telling you, we never got them.” The procurator was a short, spindly man with thinning hair and thick glasses. His uniform was too large for him.
“Bullshit!” Li wheeled around on the steps and the procurator came to an abrupt halt on the step above. Li still towered over him. “You would never have brought the case to court if we hadn’t provided the evidence.”
“Paper evidence. That’s all you sent me. I assumed the shoes had been lodged in the evidence depository.”
“They were. Which makes them your responsibility, not ours.” Li raised his arms with his voice, and people flooding out of the court behind them stopped to listen. “In the name of the sky, Zhang! My people work their butts off to bring criminals to justice . . .” He was distracted momentarily by the sight of the Armani suit and his exultant client passing them on the steps. He had a powerful urge to take his fist and smash their gloating faces to a pulp. But he turned instead to vent his anger on the procurator. “And you fucking people go losing the evidence and let killers walk free. Expect an official complaint.” He clamped a cigarette in his mouth and headed off down the steps. Procurator Zhang was fuming and only too aware of curious faces watching him. Policemen did not speak to procurators like that. Certainly not in public. It was a humiliating loss of face.
“I’m the one who’ll be making the complaint, Deputy Section Chief,” Zhang shouted lamely at Li’s back. “To the commissioner. You needn’t think you can live in the protective shadow of your uncle forever.”
Li stopped and turned, fixing him with a silent stare filled with such intensity that Zhang could not maintain eye contact. He knew he had gone too far and ran back up the steps into the safety of the courthouse.
Li stared after him for a few moments, then hurried through the parked vehicles to the street, still fighting his anger. A group of people standing at the notice board where the week’s trials were posted in advance turned to watch as he strode past. But he didn’t notice them. Neither did he see the vendor at the corner of the street offering him fruit from under a green and yellow striped awning. Nor did he smell the smoke rising from lamb skewers cooking on open coals in the narrow confines of Xidamochang Street. He turned toward the roar of traffic on East Qianmen Avenue, ignoring the honk of a car’s horn sounding behind him. Only when its engine revved and the horn sounded again did he half turn. An unmarked Beijing Police jeep drew alongside him. Detective Wu leaned over to push open the passenger door. Li was not pleased to see him. “What d’you want, Wu?”
Wu raised his hands in mock defense. “Hey, boss, I’ve been waiting for you for over an hour.”
Li hesitated briefly before slipping into the passenger seat. “What for?”
Wu grinned, jaws grinding on a piece of leathery gum that had long since lost its flavor. He pushed his sunglasses up on his forehead. He was the bearer of interesting news, and he wanted to make the most of it. “Remember that case during Spring Festival? The dismembered girl? We found her bits in a shallow grave out near the Summer Palace?”
“Yeah, I remember the case. We never got anyone for it.” Li paused. “What about it?”
“They found a whole lot more just like her down in Shanghai. Some kind of mass grave. Maybe as many as twenty. Same MO.”
“Twenty!” Li was shocked.
Wu shrugged. “They don’t know for sure yet, but there are lots of bits. And they want you down there. Fast.”
Li was taken aback. “Me? Why?”
Wu grinned. “’Cause you’re such a fucking superstar, boss.” But his smile froze quickly in the chill of Li’s glare. “They think there could be a link to the murder here in Beijing. And there’s big pressure to get a result fast on this one.”
“Why’s that?” Li had already forgotten his courtroom debacle.
Wu lit a cigarette. “Seems there was this big ceremony down there this morning. Concrete getting poured into the foundations of a big joint-venture bank they’re building across the river in Pudong. Anyway, the CEO of this New York bank comes to do the ceremonial bit on the building site. All the top brass are there. Place is bristling with American press and TV. Only it’s pissing from the heavens. The building site turns into a swamp, and the platform they built for the VIPs tips this American exec right into the hole they’re going to fill with concrete. And he finds himself floundering around in the mud with bits of bodies coming out of the walls, like they just dug up some old burial site. Only the bodies aren’t so old.”
Li whistled softly. He could imagine the media feeding frenzy. The Chinese press would print only what they were told to, but there would be no restraining the Western media. “TV cameras?”
“Beaming right out of there, live on satellite.” Wu was enjoying himself. “Apparently the powers that be are in a real state. Bodies in the bank vault are not good for business, and the Americans are talking about pulling out of the whole deal.”
“I’m sure the victims will be sorry to hear that.”
Wu smirked. He reached over to the rear seat and heaved a fat folder into Li’s lap. “That’s the file on the girl we found in Beijing. You can refamiliarize yourself with it on the flight down there.” He checked his watch. “You’ve got just about enough time to pack an overnight bag.”
Li sat on the edge of the bed. Watery sunlight slanted in from the street through the last dead leaves clinging to the trees in Zhengyi Road. A kindly face smiled down at him from the wall, a tumble of curly black hair, streaked with silver, swept back from a remarkably unlined face. He had lived with his uncle Yifu for more than ten years on the second floor of this police apartment block in the ministry compound. Li still missed him. Missed his mischief and his wisdom, the imparted experience of a lifetime, the constant prompting to think laterally, outside of the box. The devil might be in the details, he had often told him, but therein also lies the truth.
Li still ached when he remembered how the old man had died. Woke frequently in the night with the bloody image skewered into his consciousness. This had once been Yifu’s room, and now it was Xinxin’s. And she loved to hear the stories about the old man on the wall.
Li wandered back to his own room. He was destined, it seemed, to be forever haunted by Yifu. With every failure, his uncle was cast up to him as an example he should have followed. Every success was attributed to the old man’s influence. Those who were jealous of his status put it down to his uncle’s connections. And those senior officers who had worked with his uncle made it clear that his footsteps were much too big for Li ever to fill. And through every investigation he felt the old man’s presence at his shoulder, his voice whispering softly in his ear.
No use in worrying about the might-have-beens, Li Yan.
It is a good thing to have a broken mirror reshaped.
Where the tiller is tireless, the earth is fertile.
He’d have given anything to hear that voice again for real.
He stripped out of his uniform and pulled on a pair of jeans, a white T-shirt, and his favorite old brown leather jacket, before stuffing some clothes into a holdall. One of Xinxin’s books lying on the chest of drawers made him pause. He would need to make arrangements for the child’s care while he was gone. And there was no Margaret to step into the breach.
He sat for a moment lost in thought, then reached over and lifted Margaret’s hairbrush from the bedside table and teased out some of the hair trapped in its teeth. It was extra fine and golden in the pale sunlight. He put it to his nose and smelled her perfume, experiencing a moment of acute desire, and then emptiness. He ran his hand lightly across the unmade bed where they had so often made love and realized that he missed her more than he knew. Copyright © 2000 by Peter May. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from The Killing Room by May, Peter Copyright © 2008 by May, Peter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Peter May has been a journalist and is the author of three major television series in Britain, one of them in Gaelic. With an extraordinary network of contacts, he has gained unprecedented access to the homicide and forensic science sections of the Beijing and Shanghai police forces. The Chinese Crime Writers’ Association named May an honorary member of their Beijing chapter, making him the only Westerner to receive this tribute. May lives in France.
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I enjoyed the first book in the series, and thought the second was OK. This third installment, however, it was where it's at! I find Peter May to offer original storylines, which is why this author appeals to me. Of course it is nice to catch up on the relationship progress between between Li Yan and Margaret (trouble in paradise in this one), but the story itself was gripping. I could not guess the ending and that is a major selling point of a mystery for sure. If you haven't tried this series, you should give it a try. I find that since China is such a different culture anyway, there is another layer to the book as you see the affect culture has on the way characters react and interact. While I still prefer his Enzo series, upon completion of Killing Room, China Thrillers is upping the stakes.
Already upset that a killer was freed because of either corruption or incompetence in the Procurator¿s office, Ministry of Public Security Deputy Section Chief Li Yan is not in the mood to talk to anyone. However Detective Wu tells his superior that the dismembered girl found in the shallow grave near the Summer Palace was not buried alone upwards of twenty females share a grave with her. The powers that be demand Li fix the mess that was shown internationally as a New York bank CEO was the VIP digger in a sea of body parts. Shanghai Public Security Serious Crime Squad Deputy chief Mei-Ling is assigned to assist Li, who learns from her that there are eighteen torsos and sixteen heads so far. Li¿s on and off Irish girlfriend pathologist Margaret Campbell arrives following the wake of her deceased father. Although the two ladies compete for the affection of Li, the trio works together realizing that someone apparently conducted autopsies on the female victims while they still lived the cause of death in each case is the autopsy. They know preventing the monster from more killings comes before straightening out their personal relationships. --- This excellent Chinese police procedural will please fans of that sub-genre immensely as this is a top rate whodunit in a country in which connections impedes the strong investigation much more so than in the United States where influence gets a great lawyer. The story line is action-packed and the triangle cleverly developed to allow the reader to understand the motivations including personal demons of the investigating team. However, as with THE FOURTH SACRIFICE, the novel belongs to Peter May¿s deep insightful look at modern China¿s Socialist market economy in which Shanghai is filled with Porches, sex shops, discos and nightclubs standing near traditional mom and pop stores. --- Harriet Klausner