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Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen #1)

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  1,331 ratings  ·  204 reviews
You were supposed to go to Heaven, but ended up in one of the many Chinese hells instead. Who you gonna call? Nobody, you're dead. Luckily, in future Singapore, Detective Chen is on the case. Specializing in supernatural crimes, Chen finds himself in hell teaming up with a demon cop to solve the mystery, return a lost soul to its rightful reward, and restore harmony betwee ...more
Hardcover, 268 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Night Shade Books (first published 2005)
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Jan 08, 2014 Carol. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: urban fantasy lovers, hard-boiled detective fans
Really loved it, but more like four and a half stars. I haven't read many books in an Asian setting, much less urban fantasy. Detective Chen is the familiar world-weary but still hopeful police officer who does his best to help people. Williams took that and turned it sideways in a most enjoyable way.

The world is something like modern Asia, only cities have been franchised, and Heaven and Hell are real stops on the reincarnation wheel. By the end, (view spoiler)
Update (19 March 2012)

For a science fiction story with truly authentic Chinese elements, check out "A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight" from Clarkesworld. Very highly recommended.

Original Review

Ah, Haw Par Villa. Such fond memories I have it. It used to be known also as Tiger Balm Gardens, and was built by the Haw Par brothers, the makers of Tiger Balm:
tiger balm products

As an act of civic goodness, the Haw Par brothers constructed Haw Par Villa. It’s a lovely little theme park in Singapore. Here, you’ll find dioram
4 out of 5 stars

Not many books have moments that both intrigue and disgust me. At the same time. And not many books present these moments back to back with little respite in between for squeamish readers to settle their stomachs. That is to say this book is not for the faint of heart, especially not for those who can't stand the sight of blood and gore or sickness and decomposition.

On the back cover:
John Constantine meets Chow Yun-Fat in this near-future occult thriller!

I don't usually read
⊱ Irena ⊰
Snake Agent is a combination of so many great things that it would be really hard not to find at least one or two things to like.
At its core it is an urban fantasy set in near future that takes place in Singapore. Number three. You see there are more of those and this one is just as crowded and corrupted as any other.

Then it's science fiction. People use something called bioweb, and a young person can earn a lot of money acting as nexus. This is not just thrown in there just for the sake of info
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.

I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons with tails and horns and leathery wings, demons of sublime beauty and terrible mien, demons that torment and corrupt. It doesn't matter that I no longer believe in the concepts of good and evil; it doesn't matter that demons are fiction; they are so deeply programmed into me that there is no escaping their intimate hold on portions of my imaginati
Dec 04, 2013 Terence rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terence by: GR friend Felicia's review
It is unfair to any author to wander into a book expecting something and then being disappointed when it's not delivered but I'm human and I can't help it. Reading this book, I had hoped to read something like Barry Hughart's adventures with Master Li and Number Ten Ox (Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was et al.) or Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee stories (Judge Dee at Work: Eight Chinese Detective Stories et al.), except in this case the celestial and infernal bureaucracies ...more
Kelly H. (Maybedog)
I wanted to love this book, I really did, but I am only giving it three stars instead of two because of the originality. I enjoyed some of it and hated other parts of it. I'm very frustrated with the author and can't believe it was written by an educated Western woman. But more on that later.

The good parts are the unusual premise: the detective, Chen, lives in a technologically advanced futuristic Shanghai as a supernatural detective, investigating those cases that involve demons, ghosts and the
Really fantastic fantasy/sci-fi/mystery fusion. Wei Chen is a detective in the slightly futuristic Singapore Three; his area of expertise is the supernatural, specifically dealings between Earth, Heaven, and Hell. Investigating the reappearance as a ghost of a rich girl who supposedly died of anorexia-related complications gets Chen involved with a conspiracy whose origins lie somewhere in the vast bureaucracy of Hell, and also finds him entering into a reluctant and wary partnership with a demo ...more
Apr 27, 2008 Felicia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: urban paranormal fans
I really really liked this book! There were some consistency problems with the end of it, but the journey was innovative. The world is really interesting, and the book combined several genres together with very good success! Refreshing to read an urban paranormal book without a tough-as-nails but emotionally-fragile heroine :) I'll be picking up the others!
Basically, the sort of book that justifies entire genres. Love, love, love. First off, the prologue was genuinely interesting, and made me want to read the book. In general, I automatically skip prologues. Secondly, this marries myth and science in truly satisfying and creative ways. Thirdly, it has everything: Gods and demons in disguise, police procedure, uneasy alliances that turn to uneasy friendship, a man trapped between love and duty, but not in a stupid way.

The setting is the Singapore o
Snake Agent is mostly urban fantasy, with a touch of cyberpunk if you think about the technology involved in the bioweb, which turned out not to be just background and world-building, but a serious part of the plot. It's notable because it relies more on Eastern mythology and culture than Western: however, as with Liz Williams' other book, Empire of Bones, it didn't feel all that different.

A couple of other reviewers note their problems with Inari, and the lack of importance of female characters
Rachel Neumeier
Liz Williams has written over a dozen books, it turns out, but I hadn’t heard of her until someone mentioned her on my blog as an example of an author writing non-European settings. So I picked up this book and I've had it on my TBR shelves ever since. Well, a few days ago I finally was in the mood for a detective story / fantasy, so I picked it up. And it was really good! It’s a rather dense urban fantasy that in some ways feels like SF, because it’s set in the future.

Chen is a detective in Sin
Tamora Pierce
Inspector Chen deals with demon crimes as his service to Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, women, and childbirth. She's a bit ticked off with him, though, because a year ago Chen married a demon, so in tight spots Chen doesn't always have the goddess to call on.

Now Chen is called in to investigate a girl whose ghost did not appear in Heaven when it was supposed to, despite the fact that its way was paid for. He stumbles into a plot whereby the souls of young, pure girls are being sold to d
SF. Wei Chen is a detective inspector with the Singapore Three police department, but his colleagues fear him for his ties to the underworld. Chen investigates supernatural crimes, associates with demons and gods, and is no stranger to Hell. This is set in the near future -- there's some new technology, Singapore's become a franchise -- but the biggest difference is that communication between Earth and the afterlife has finally moved beyond bird entrails and tea leaves; Hell's got email. Heaven ...more
Christine (AR)
Inspector Chen, the human representative of the divine, teams up with Shir Urzh, the demon sensechal, to stop a plague. Buddy cops in hell.

I loved this book. It's really,really well-written, with great characters, fantastic world-building, and a kick-ass plot that rocked along at a screaming pace. At one point, there were three story-lines following three sets of characters, leading to a big show-down at the end, and for me? The fact that I was never disappointed to switch to a different story a
This story simply delighted me. It was a wild and exciting mishmash of things I love, and things that I'd forgotten than I love. At once a crime novel, neo-noir, near-future sci-fi, buddy cop story, and urban fantasy, all wrapped up in an extremely well-done and seldom seen Far Eastern setting.

I will be reading ALL of the Detective Inspector Chen novels. ALL OF THEM. Soon.
Mike Shevdon
Initially, I chose Snake Agent because of the cover. It's a fantastic image and reveals more detail as you look into it. I was hoping that the contents would live up to the jacket.

It took me a little while to get into the setting, which is very different from either the modern western setting of most Urban Fantasy or the pseudo-medieval setting of heroic fantasy. It does grow on you, though, and the book is very atmospheric. Williams stays away from the temptation to make Inspector Chen a martia
[7/10] Interesting read, a good decision on the part of the author to base the story in Far East Asia and to tap the huge reservoir of chinese mythology for a noir-ish detective novel. The descriptions of the huge urban sprawl of Singapore Three and of the Hell undergound realm were well suited for maintaining the dark atmosphere of the novel, and the main characters were OK without shining. Humor was also treated right, in an understated way, relying more on the situational conflict and pointed ...more
Matti Karjalainen
Singapore 3:n kaupungin yliluonnollisten tapausten parissa työskentelevä komisario Chen ja helvetin siveyspoliisin palveluksessa työskentelevä demoni Zhu Irzh joutuvat molemmat tutkimaan erikoista tapausta, joka kytkeytyy äskettäin kuolleeseen, vaikutusvaltaisen liikemiehen tyttäreen tai oikeammin tämän haamuun. Käy kuitenkin ilmi, että taustalla on jotakin suurempaa ja infernaalisempaa kuin kukaan olisi osannut arvella.

Liz Williamsin "Aavekauppiaan tytär" (Like, 2012) on kohtalaisen älytöntä hö
Katharine Kimbriel
With lush language and intricate world building, SNAKE AGENT takes us to a future world that may or may not be Earth. Our hero is Detective Inspector Chen, the “snake agent” of the Singapore Three police department. He’s the go-to person for any crime remotely connected to the supernatural or mystical.

Chen’s an overworked man with a lot of problems – his colleagues don’t trust him, his patron goddess appears to be offended by something he’s done, and his demon wife is bored staying home alone. N
colleen the fabulous fabulaphile
In one of my status updates I'd said I wasn't sure if I was suffering from the "fussy book crankies" or if there were other reasons that this book just wasn't quite connecting with me.

I've decided that it's the book.

Mostly, the biggest issue seems to be a lot of telling versus showing. "He did this. He was started. He did that. He reacted thusly." So on and so forth. It just wasn't very engaging writing, imo.

As an extention of that, I never really connected with the characters, either. My favori
There are any number of reasons why Liz Williams' Snake Agent, the first book of her Detective Inspector Chen novels, is worth your time. The setting is refreshingly different for a supernatural mystery/thriller: futuristic China, where there's a blend of high tech and magic, but wherein the magic and the mythos are pulled out of Chinese sources. There's the hero, neither young nor particularly handsome or dashing, but certainly decent, and adamant about standing up for what he believes in--such ...more
The protagonist, Detective Inspector Chin, is forced to accept a demon partner from Hell in order to solve a crime that crosses the jurisdictional lines of Heaven and Hell. Chin is the sole "supernatural" investigator for his department and is regarded by his coworkers with fear and suspicion because of his ability to interact with ghosts, demons and divine beings.

DIC Chin is the stoic type, while his demon partner brings the comic relief. The book starts out a bit slow and steady (like Chin) an
If you're looking for something different in modern urban fantasy/sci-fi/horror, particularly something that doesn't draw from the usual pool of vampires, werewolves and elves, this is a good place to start.

The fantasy and horror is squarely routed in Chinese and Buddhist culture, the sci-fi is more concerned with culture than details of the circuits and cells. Also a very five senses book-- it's not just the way things look, it's descriptions of the sounds, the smells. Definitely worth reading.
Well where to start with this book - again another one of my "happy" gambles paid off (and as you can see paid off through several sequels too). The story is at its heart a general crime story - meshed with a westernised view of china, its traditions and its superstitions and you have the making of the ever eternal ever fascinating and often repeated formula of "the odd couple" pairing to solve a crime. Ok this pairing is not as conventional as many but the interaction the world in which they op ...more
I've been thinking about reading this one for a while, and I'm glad I did.
This is a delightful mishmash of near-future technology (biowebs powered by human nervous systems that run everything) and traditional Chinese mythology. Our main character is a jaded policeman who happens to be in charge of the occult crimes for the department. Think X-Files except for the fact that he gets more respect.
We've got a Chinese Hell that is trying to move with the times instead of staying stuck in old-fashio
Quite a fun book. This one has taken up the time in a lot of hospital waiting rooms recently, and I'm glad that I had something diverting to keep me occupied.

Highly intriguing setting, with a near-future Far East that encompasses the supernatural into daily life. The versions of heaven and hell are very Eastern, and thus somewhat wonderful and new to a Western reader. As with other Night Shade books I've read, the quality is high and the subject matter somewhat more eclectic than your average f
Sep 23, 2007 Coffcat rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of [author: Lilith Saintcrow], [author: Rachel Caine], [author: Charlaine Harris]
Shelves: fantasy, mystery
I really liked this book! The basis of the story is unlike anything else I have ever read. For a first novel of a series the author did a terrific job setting up the storyline and creating characters that are well rounded and seem believable. Everything from the magic use, location, types of creatures in the book are totally unique and have the remarkable ability to not remind me of the many other books out on the market that have similar elements. In all I'm really looking forward to reading th ...more
Marika Oksa
Piristävä dekkarituttavuus. Yliluonnollista hörhöilyä manalan majoilla - kyllä tämän kirjan äärellä viihtyi.
I don't think I've ever gotten a book because of an ad in the back of another book, but I did that this time. (It was in the back of 9Tail Fox, which helped its case.)

The book was fine. It's somewhere between cyberpunk and fantasy, like if The Diamond Age and Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was had a baby. Who was sort of a mediocre disappointment.

Apparently the Chinese conception of Hell was right, and...things happen. There were some interesting concepts, but there were
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Urban Fantasy ser...: #5: Snake Agent 6 19 Jul 04, 2015 08:20AM  
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There is more than one author with this name

Liz Williams is a British science fiction writer. Her first novel, The Ghost Sister was published in 2001. Both this novel and her next, Empire of Bones (2002) were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award.[1] She is also the author of the Inspector Chen series.

She is the daughter of a stage magician and a Gothic novelist. She holds a PhD in Philosophy of
More about Liz Williams...

Other Books in the Series

Detective Inspector Chen (5 books)
  • The Demon and the City (Detective Inspector Chen #2)
  • Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3)
  • The Shadow Pavilion (Detective Inspector Chen, #4)
  • The Iron Khan (Detective Inspector Chen #5)
The Demon and the City (Detective Inspector Chen #2) Precious Dragon (Detective Inspector Chen #3) The Shadow Pavilion (Detective Inspector Chen, #4) The Poison Master Worldsoul (Worldsoul Trilogy, #1)

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“In the matter of prejudice...we are all the same. Goddess and demon, human and monster: none of us understand difference, but at least some of us make the effort to try.” 8 likes
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