Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen Series #1)

Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen Series #1)

by Qiu Xiaolong
4.0 17

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Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen Cao Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Minnesota_ReaderAN More than 1 year ago
This book is different than most books I have read before! The story is a combination of mystery and politics with the majority of it in politics. Unlike other books, this story weaves a fascinating story of how Communist Chinese politics deeply affects the lives of their detectives and the outcome of their investigations. If you are looking for a book with mystery from front to back, this is not the story. If you want to learn a little while you read (my motive!), this is a great book.
Andrew_of_Dunedin More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, there are two main types of mysteries out there today. When I say the word “murder mystery”, most people's minds jump to the traditional “whodunnit”, in which the protagonist(s) attempt to discover who the killer is/are. In the other, popularized by the television series “Columbo”, the “howdunnit” makes little to no secret over who the villain is – the point of the novel is to watch as our protagonist puts the pieces together and attempts to prove that the antagonist is guilty despite their efforts to cover up their crime. In “Death of a Red Heroine”, author Qiu Xiaolong attempts to marry the two and put his own spin on it. The young woman found murdered outside of Shanghai turns out to be a Model Worker, someone who the Party has held up as someone whom the Chinese population should use as an example in their own lives. Inspector Chen faces his first big case in his new job. He has to figure out who the victim is – and then who killed her, and why. Meanwhile, two large questions hang overhead – is the person he has targeted as his prime suspect actually guilty (“whodunnit”) and will the Communist Party allow him to arrest his prime suspect if it turns out to be the correct action, given his position and status? (Add some angst in his personal life to keep him on his toes.) Having grown up in a capitalistic society, governed in accordance with those of a Republic and a Democracy, I was certainly interested in (in my opinion) the main character of this novel – The Communist Party of the People's Republic of China. EVERY decision, every action is either predicated on “What is in the best interests of the Party?” or “How will the Party react to this action?” (Sometimes augmented with “... if they find out.”) It's not an attitude I am used to, nor do I believe I could tolerate. However, it added a unique and interesting aspect to what would have been a decent, but unassuming novel. In my opinion, it's worth a try. Enjoy it. And I'll be looking forward to the second book in the series. RATING: 4 stars.
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Millie_Hennessy More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The writing style is very different from American mysteries, and I enjoyed that. Chief Inspector Chen is investigating the murder of a political party member and it's interesting to see the pull between politics and doing what Chen believes is right. Chen is a character that grew on me. From the start he's very poetic, and the way he views the world around him is poetic too. Normally I'm not big on poetry, but there were a lot of nice quotes in this book, and Chen had a way of making them fit his life. The pace of the book was very relaxed, not a usual fast paced mystery. I liked that. There was a concentration on details and relationships and it was interesting to read about the changes that were affecting China in the 1990s. Like others have said, it wasn't really about finding out who the killer was, but the journey that Inspector Chen took, and the discoveries he made along the way, as well as his perserverance.
bejtenorio More than 1 year ago
'90s in Shanghai. I like the main character, a true comrade gentleman, honest and hard working. Seems to be very predictable, but still the setting and the characters made it an entertaining read. I look forward reading the next in the series.
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IsisCB More than 1 year ago
If you like would like to learn about modern day Shanghai; get glimpses of the Cultural Revolution in an interesting, history brought alive kind of way; enjoy detective series; and want to read about a intelligent, moral, detective who always tries to do right while balancing the need to be a filial son to his mother and the "good or best interests of the party," these are a great series. Start with this one, the first, and keep reading. I did find this book a little long (it was a lot of pages), but it provided an interesting glimpse of a "model worker" a beautiful young lady who seems to have it all - respect, admiration, fame but is murdered and it is up to Detective Chen to solve the case. I actually started with one of the latest Detective Chen books, "The Mao Case" that I found in the New release section of the library. I enjoyed it so much, that I started with this book, so I could read the entire series. These books are great for learning more about the Chinese culture, history, poetry, and are just great escape books. Inspector Chen is the kind of person who you would want as a friend. I visited Shanghai and China three years ago, so it great reading more about it and remembering some of the sights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Life in the nineties' Shanghai is revealed through the eyes of a poetic minded detective. The prose flows effortlessly as it pulls us into the story, giving non-Chinese a better understanding of what it's like to live and work in contemporary China.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am not normally a fan of mysteries as a category of fiction but my wife makes up for my lack of interest with stacks of mysteries around the house. This first book by Qiu Xiolong struck my interest with its setting in Shanghai, China in early 1990 a year after Teanammen Square. The book does not disappoint; it is a splendid mix of historical fiction, political and social observation, with a newly appointed Chief Inspector Chen who is a wonderfully fully developed character (as are all the characters in the book). You¿re not going to read this because of the case, a rather traditional murder. Although the victim, the red heroine of the title, is compelling because she was a ¿model worker¿ member of the ¿Party¿ and thus a part of the elite. All this Xiaolong points out comes with a price. The fun begins as The Party, via Chen¿s superiors are all over him and his partner Yu attempting to direct, control, delay and halt the investigation to protect the Party, and thus the country. How this all plays out in the plot are the twists and turns one expects from a good mystery. The book¿s structure is basically just a police procedural. However, this outstanding book is much more as it delivers the reader into the world of 1990 Shanghai with details in character and environment in a strange landscape of a political and economic system in a paranoid transition. The basic plot point is the decline of privileges of the old guard and their sense of entitlement vs. capitalism that Chen and his generation realize requires fairness and justice if it is to work. My only negative comments are that the actual murder case and motive is not that creative although it works and services the story. And, don¿t your just hate it when a compelling character and love interest, in this case a local reporter named Wang, just keeps calling Chen and...¿. (Well I won¿t spoil it for you except to say in my opinion Xialong missed the boat on the Wang/Chen relationship). I can not convey how much I both enjoyed this book and how I am sure you will too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am an English mystery junkie who took a fascinating and unforgettable trip down the Yangtse River several years ago. Could I ask for anything more than this marvelous novel? It reads a bit slowly at first, but that is also reminiscent of English pacing, and it turns out to be well worth the effort. I have just ordered his second!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book that I could not put down. It was beautifully written and although not a poetry lover, I truly enjoyed the short poems inserted into the story line. I hope Xiaolong Qiu continues to fascinate us with more Inspector Chen mysteries.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel merits attention not only because it is excellent, but also because it is groundbreaking. As far as I know, it is the first English-language police procedural set in contemporary China written by a Chinese author. Of course, I would love to be proven wrong on this since it would mean that there was other material out there to read. To my knowledge, most previous mysteries and thrillers set in China have been by Western authors. The most famous are probably van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries. Unfortunately, more recently we have suffered from inane thrillers in which a Western protagonist becomes entangled in some sort of incomprehensible and fundamentally absurd political intrigue, confronts a series of diabolical but paper-thin villains, and receives assistance from some sort of beautiful and exotic love interest. Finally, with Red Heroine, we have a detective novel written by an insider with Chinese protagonists, Chinese villains, and only incidental roles for Westerners. I hope very much this is the beginning of a trend. Now for my discussion of the novel itself. It worked well on three levels. First of all, it was the sort of slow-paced, atmospheric police procedural that I like the most. In many ways, it reminds me de Wetering's Grijpstra and de Gier series, Mankell's Kurt Wallander novels, or Sjowall and Wahloo's Martin Beck novels. It uses a criminal case and the accompanying investigation as a lens through which to view contemporary society. The pace is leisurely, it provides a very strong sense of place, and has nicely realized, complex, and mostly authentic characters. So if you like reading about Grijpstra and de Gier, Wallender, or Beck, you will like this book. Second, I thought it was an excellent and very authentic portrait of life in urban China in the 1990s. The author takes advantage of the possibilities offered by the narrative form of the procedural to introduce characters from many different walks of life and show how they have been affected by the turbulence of previous decades and by the uncertainty created by the rapid economic and political change of the 1990s. Generational conflicts, economic and social clevages, and political change all play a role. The portrait of life is so complete that I am weighing the possibility of assigning the novel when I teach my class on Chinese society next year. The book's focus on the details of everyday life sets it apart from much of the other English-language fiction about China that seems to focus so much on the exotic. Third, I really appreciated the quality of the prose. Reflecting perhaps the author's background in literature, the imagery was often very evocative. I have spent a fair amount of time in China, and the author's descriptions of people's homes, restaurants, typical street scenes, and so forth all really resonated. The novel is not perfect, reflecting perhaps the fact that it is the author's first published detective novel. I would like to have seen more of the intricate details of police work that help 'authenticate' procedurals. While interviewing and the gathering of forensic evidence was handled adequately, there were one or two places where the description fell flat. For example, on a couple of occasions when a character needs to go somewhere without being followed, the author simply states that the character 'made sure he wans't being followed.' This is a marked difference from, for example, Wahloo and Sjowall's 'The Man Who Went Up in Smoke' where we get ample details of Martin Beck's attempts to evade surveillance while in Budapest. In this particular case, I was completely mystified as to how anyone in China who knew they the subject of special attention from the government could 'make sure they weren't being followed.' Another very minor quibble I had was that the romanization of some of the names seemed problematic. A historical character named Liu Xiahui (the Liu Xiahui of 'Zuo huai bu luan'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Death of a Red Heroine is a magnificent work: both a well-written story and a social commentary on 1990s Shanghai. The prose is poetic. ¿A click. He heard her putting down the phone. And the empty silence. She was thousands of miles away. So many years had passed since he talked to the daughter in his heart.¿ (p. 250) The characters are intricate. My favorite is Yu Guangming, an honorable, hard-working ¿regular guy.¿ The main character, Chief Inspector Chen, has his faults. Half-way into the book, I was still battling whether or not I liked him. The murder investigation is maze-like, slowly unfolding the life and death of Guan Hongying. I read Death of a Red Heroine and found myself a better citizen of the world because it had taught me. Qiu offers a keyhole through which to observe modern Chinese life.