The Eye of Jade (Mei Wang Series #1))

The Eye of Jade (Mei Wang Series #1))

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by Diane Wei Liang
     
 

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"Having her own detective agency would give her
the independence she had always longed for. It
would also give her the chance to show those people
who shunned her that she could be successful. People
were getting rich. They owned property, money,
business, and cars. With new freedom and opportunities
came new crimes. There would be much

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Overview

"Having her own detective agency would give her
the independence she had always longed for. It
would also give her the chance to show those people
who shunned her that she could be successful. People
were getting rich. They owned property, money,
business, and cars. With new freedom and opportunities
came new crimes. There would be much that
she could do."

Present day, Beijing. Mei Wang is a modern, independent woman. She has her own apartment. She owns a car. She has her own business with that most modern of commodities — a male secretary. Her short career with China's prestigious Ministry for Public Security has given her intimate insight into the complicated and arbitrary world of Beijing's law enforcement. But it is her intuition, curiosity, and her uncanny knack for listening to things said — and unsaid — that make Mei Beijing's first successful female private investigator.

Mei is no stranger to the dark side of China. She was six years old when she last saw her father behind the wire fence of one of Mao's remote labor camps. Perhaps as a result, Mei eschews the power plays and cultural mores — guanxi — her sister and mother live by...for better and for worse.

Mei's family friend "Uncle" Chen hires her to find a Han dynasty jade of great value: he believes the piece was looted from the Luoyang Museum during the Cultural Revolution — when the Red Guards swarmed the streets, destroying so many traces of the past — and that it's currently for sale on the black market. The hunt for the eye of jade leads Mei through banquet halls and back alleys, seedy gambling dens and cheap noodle bars near the Forbidden City. Given the jade's provenance and its journey, Mei knows to treat the investigation as a most delicate matter; she cannot know, however, that this case will force her to delve not only into China's brutal history, but also into her family's dark secrets and into her own tragic separation from the man she loved in equal parts.

The first novel in an exhilarating new detective series, The Eye of Jade is both a thrilling mystery and a sensual and fascinating journey through modern China.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
" We've all heard of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling novels about a female private detective from Botswana. Now it's China's turn. On the surface The Eye of Jade is a classic detective fiction with lots of underworld contacts and hushed conversations in noodle bars, but underneath, Liang, who fled China after her involvement in the student protests in Tiananmen Square, is doing something much more than an examination of China old and new. There's an incredible tension between old Communist China and a new capitalist future; this tension is at the heart of the novel. This novel takes on subjects that in the past would have been censored." — Mark Coles, BBC

"This may start out as a straightforward mystery but it expands to encompass a meditation on the nature of love and justice in extraordinary circumstances." — Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

"An exquisitely written book, with the added bonus of a great plot and an engaging leading lady." — The Sun-Herald (Sydney, Australia)

Publishers Weekly

Chinese exile Liang, who fled her country after participating in the Tiananmen Square protests, makes an impressive debut with this understated mystery set in the late 1990s, the first in a prospective series. After resigning from the ministry of public security, Mei Wang launches a private investigative agency, a technically illegal business in China, much to her family's dismay. After an old family friend, "Uncle" Chen Jitian, hires Mei to track down a jade seal from the Han dynasty, previously believed to be destroyed, Mei and her assistant, Gupin, follow slim leads to a shady dealer who might have connections to the same museum collection supposedly incinerated by the Red Guard. Readers familiar with Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs will find many parallels between that independent and unconventional PI and Mei. Mei's challenging family life nicely complements the puzzle of the missing jade and the shifting Chinese political climate. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Formerly a high-ranking member of the Ministry of Public Security, Mei Wang now works for people who need things or persons found in Beijing. (Private investigators are illegal in China, so semantics is employed to get around that hurtle.) Mei has her hands full when she is hired to locate a valuable Chinese artifact. Her mother has a stroke, and Mei's investigation brings her surprising insights into what her mother had to endure during the harsh Cultural Revolution. The murder of an unimportant man plays a minor role in this provocative novel dealing with what truth is and how our personal perceptions cloud reality. Highly recommended. The author-who wrote a memoir about her childhood in a Chinese labor camp and her participation in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations (Lake with No Name)-lives in London. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ10/1/07.]


—Jo Ann Vicarel
Kirkus Reviews
A young woman in contemporary Beijing struggles to succeed as a private detective while dealing with family problems. Though she's busy with several cases and apparently successful, independent investigator Mei Wang is still plagued by doubts. Her traditional sister Lu continues to criticize her audacity. Her reservations are seconded by Mei's mother, Ling Bai, who worked faithfully for the Party but never received the recognition or the status she deserved. As Mei accepts the case of a loopy businessman known as "The King of Hair-Growth Serum," she wistfully recalls her days as a police officer at the Ministry of Public Security. A family reunion only piles on the uncertainty. But when the uninsured Ling Bai is unexpectedly struck with a grave illness, it is the independently employed Mei, shouldering the usual reproaches, who is able to pay the hospital bills. Then the search for a valuable jade seal takes Mei and the reader on a crash tour of China's bustling capital. The challenging and exciting new case serves to restore her faith in herself and her resolve to continue. Liang (Lake with No Name, 2004) kicks off her new series by putting the private-eye plot on a back burner to focus on social, family and feminist issues. Not your typical mystery, but written with subtle intelligence and heart. Agent: Jennifer Joel/ICM

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416549567
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
04/07/2009
Series:
Mei Wang Series, #1
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,383,370
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

ONE

In the corner of an office in an old-fashioned building in Beijing's Chongyang District, the fan was humming loudly, like an elderly man angry at his own impotence. Mei and Mr. Shao sat across a desk from each other. Both were perspiring heavily. Outside, the sun shone, baking the air into a solid block of heat.

Mr. Shao wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He had refused to remove his suit jacket. "Money's not a problem." He cleared his throat. "But you must get on it right away."

"I'm working on other cases at the moment."

"Do you want me to pay extra, is that it? You want a deposit? I can give you one thousand yuan right now." Mr. Shao reached for his wallet. "They come up with the fakes faster than I can produce the real thing, and they sell them at under half my price. I've spent ten years building up my name, ten years of blood and sweat. But I don't want you talking to your old friends at the Ministry, you understand? I want no police in this."

"You are not doing anything illegal, are you?" Mei wondered why he was so keen to pay her a deposit. That was most unusual, especially for a businessman as shrewd as Mr. Shao.

"Please, Miss Wang. What's legal and what's not these days? You know what people say: 'The Party has strategies, and the people have counterstrategies.'" Mr. Shao stared at Mei with his narrow eyes. "Chinese medicine is like magic. Regulations are for products that don't work. Mine cure. That's why people buy them."

He gave a small laugh. It didn't ease the tension. Mei couldn't decide whether he was a clever businessman or a crook.

"I don't like the police — no offense, Miss Wang, I know you used to be one of them. When I started out, I sold herbs on the street. The police were always on my tail, confiscating my goods, taking me into the station as if I were a criminal. Comrade Deng Xiaoping said Ge Ti Hu — that individual traders were contributors to building socialism. But did the police care for what he said? They're muddy eggs. Now things are better. I've done well, and people look up to me. But if you ask me, the police haven't changed. When you need protection, they can't help you. I asked them to investigate the counterfeits. Do you know what they told me? They said they don't do that kind of work. But whenever there is a policy change, an inspection, or a crackdown, you can bet they'll jump on me like hungry dogs."

"Whether you like the police or not, we must play by the book," Mei said, though she knew her voice was less convincing than her words. Private detectives were banned in China. Mei, like others in the business, had resorted to the counter-strategy of registering her agency as an information consultancy.

"Of course," agreed Mr. Shao. A smile as wide as the ocean filled his face.

After Mr. Shao had left, Mei walked over to stand next to the fan. Slowly, the faint breeze flowing through her silk shirt began to cool her. She thought of the time when she was "one of them," working in the police headquarters — the Ministry of Public Security. Most of their cases were complex or politically sensitive; otherwise, they would not have been sent up by the Ministry's branches. There were always a lot of agents, bosses, and departments involved. At first Mei liked the excitement and buzz. But as the years went on, she began to feel lost in the web of politics and bureaucracy. It was hard to know what was going on and how to figure out all the pieces of the truth.

Mei moved a little to get the full benefit of the fan. She looked around. Her office was a small room, sparsely furnished and with a window overlooking the dirt yard. Next to it was an entrance hall. Everything inside the agency said low budget and secondhand. Yet she was happy. She liked being her own boss and having full control of the jobs she took on and how she went about them.

The door opened. Mei's assistant, Gupin, tumbled in, looking like a cooked lobster. Without a word, he dashed over to his desk in the entrance hall and drained a glass jar of tea that had been there since morning. He slipped the army bag from his shoulder and dropped it on the floor. "Was that Mr. Shao, the King of Hair-Growth Serum, I saw leaving?" He looked up, catching his breath. He spoke with a faint but noticeable accent that gave him away as a country boy.

Mei nodded.

"Are you going to take his case?"

"I told him I would, but now I wonder. There is something odd about that man."

"He wears a toupee." Gupin came over with a small packet wrapped in newspaper. "I've collected five thousand yuan in cash from Mr. Su." He smiled. His face, still red from exertion, shone with pride.

Mei took the package and squeezed it gently. It felt firm. She made space for Gupin in front of the fan. "Was he difficult?" she asked. Gupin was now standing next to her, his bare arm almost touching hers. She could smell his sweat.

"At first. But he can't scare me or distract me with his tricks. I've seen weasels like him before, and I've traveled many roads. I know how to make sure you get your fee, Ms. Mei. People get worried when they see a migrant worker like me in that kind of place."

The word "weasel" sounded especially nasty in Gupin's accent. Mei smiled. At times like this, she couldn't help thinking how right she had been to hire him. And how odd it was that she had her younger sister to thank.

When Mei had opened her agency, Lu, her younger sister, was critical of the idea. "What do you know about business? Look at yourself — you don't socialize, you can't cope with politics, you have no Guanxi — none of the networks and contacts you need. How can you possibly succeed? Contrary to what you might think, my dear sister, running a business is tough. I know; I'm married to a successful businessman."

Mei had rolled her eyes. She was too tired to fight anymore. Since she had resigned from the Ministry of Public Security, everyone seemed to want to lecture her.

"Well, I suppose you are at the end of your rope," Lu said at last, sighing. "If you can't hold on to your job at the Ministry, what else can you do? You might as well work for yourself. But I can't watch you jump into a churning river without knowing how to swim. Let me find someone who can teach you the basics of business."

The next day Mr. Hua had called to invite Mei to his office. There, she sat on a dark leather sofa and was served coffee by his pretty secretary while Mr. Hua talked about Guanxi, about which procedures could be avoided and a few that couldn't, about creative organization and accounting, and most of all, about the importance of having sharp eyes and ears.

"You need to be sensitive to the change of wind and policy," he said. "Make sure you always watch out for people who might stab you from behind. And one word of advice" — Mei had quickly learned that "one word of advice" was a favorite expression of Mr. Hua — "don't trust anyone who is not your friend. You want to succeed, then make sure you have a good Guanxi network, especially in high places." Mr. Hua topped up his coffee for the fifth time. "What about secretaries?" he asked Mei.

"What about them?"

"Have you thought about what kind of secretary you need?"

Mei told him that she had no plans to hire a secretary, not before she had any clients.

Mr. Hua shook his head. "You can hire someone for very little money. There are plenty of migrant workers from the provinces willing to work for almost nothing. The cost of having someone answer the phone or run errands is small, but the benefit is considerable. Your business won't look right without a secretary. If you don't look right, no one will come to you. Look around and tell me what you see."

Mei looked around. The office was big and full of expensive-looking furniture. "You've got a great place," she said.

"Exactly. What I have here is what people call a 'leather-bag company.' I invite foreign investors to become part of a joint venture. All foreign firms are required to have a Chinese partner, as you know. They come here to meet me, they see a grand setup, the best address. But they don't realize that I have no factory or workforce of my own. They think I'm important, the real thing. I go and find factories only after I receive money from the foreign firm. If I can do one deal a year, I'm set. Two, I can take the rest of the year off.

"You see, making money is easy. The difficult part is getting people to pay up. That's why I like to do business with foreigners. It's much more difficult with the Chinese. One word of advice: When you hire someone, think about payment recovery and make sure your girl is tough enough to do the money chasing."

Seeing the sense in what he was saying, Mei advertised for a secretary. Among all the applicants, Gupin was the only man. Mei had not considered hiring a man to be her secretary. But she decided to interview him.

Gupin had come from a farming village in Henan Province and was working on Beijing's construction sites to get by. "I finished at the top of my class at our county high school," he told Mei. "But I had to go back to my village because that's where my official record was. I wanted to work in the county town, but my village head didn't agree. He said our village needed a 'reading book man.'"

It took Mei some time to get used to his accent and understand what he was saying.

"My ma wanted me to get married. But I didn't want to. I don't want to end up like my brother. Every day he gets up at dawn and works in the field all day. By the end of the year, he still can't afford to feed his wife and son. My da was like that, too. He died long ago from TB. Everyone says there is gold in the big cities. So I thought I'd come to Beijing. Who knows what I can do here?"

Mei watched him. He was young, just twenty-one, with broad shoulders. Packs of muscle were visible under his shirt. When he smiled, he seemed bashful but honest.

Regretfully, she told him that he couldn't do the work she needed. He didn't know Beijing, and his Henan accent would put people off. "They will assume many things about you and probably about this business, too. Some people may even think that I'm running some sort of con. It's stupid, I know. That's how people are, though. The same would happen to me if I were to go to Shanghai. I'd probably be cheated by taxi drivers and given all the wrong directions."

But Gupin was persistent. "Give me a chance," he begged her. "I'm a quick learner, and I work hard. I can learn about Beijing. Give me three months, and I promise I will know all the streets. I'll get rid of my accent, too. I can, believe me."

In the end, Mei decided to give him a chance. She remembered what Mr. Hua had said, and she thought Gupin would make, if not a brilliant secretary, at least a more threatening debt collector than anyone else she had interviewed. He was also by far the cheapest.

"I'll give you a year," she told him. "You have no idea how big Beijing is."

Over a year later, Gupin had proved to be everything he'd said he was: hardworking, smart, and loyal. He had spent much of his spare time riding through the hutongs, narrow alleyways, and streets of Beijing on his bicycle, and he now knew more about certain neighborhoods than Mei did. He became another pair of ears and eyes for her.

"Well done," Mei told Gupin now. "Mr. Su is not the sort of man to part with money easily. Let's finish up."

They packed up and checked all the locks on the door. It felt cooler in the dim corridor.

"I hope the weekend won't be as hot," Gupin said as they walked out of the building. His military bag bounced over his shoulder. "Are you doing anything special?"

"A picnic in the Old Summer Palace."

"Going so far for a picnic?"

"It's my university class reunion."

Outside, the sunshine was hazy and the air thick as syrup. The two of them said goodbye and parted, Gupin heading to a young aspen tree to which he had chained his Flying Pigeon bicycle and Mei to her two-door Mitsubishi, parked under an ancient oak tree.

Copyright © 2008 by The Eye of Jade Limited

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