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

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  3,095 Ratings  ·  465 Reviews
Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police must find the murderer of a National Model Worker, and then risk his own life and career to see that justice is done.
Paperback, 464 pages
Published June 1st 2000 by Soho Press (first published 2000)
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If you want to read a novel written originally in English about China and Chinese culture, you can't do better than start with this book. Qiu Xiaolong (in Chinese, the family name comes at the beginning) is not only China born and bred but, as a poet and translator of ancient Chinese Tang poetry and former teacher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is also a bona fide member of the Chinese literati. As an immigrant to the United States where he chose to stay on after the Tiananmen incide ...more
First Sentence: The body was found at 4:40 p.m., on May 11, 1990, in Baili Canal, an out-of-the-way canal, about twenty miles to the west of Shanghai.

Inspector Chen Cao is a poet, translator of Western literature, including mysteries, and newly assigned as head of the Special Case Squad. The naked body of a young woman has been found in a canal. The victim, Guan Hongying, had been recognized as a National Model Worker. As Chen and Detective Yu move forward in their investigation, their primary s

2.5 Stars

How good did the blurb sound? A detective novel that takes place in Communist China! Unfortunately, and despite almost every other person I know enjoying it, I found this novel pretty underwhelming. Proof, I guess, of just how subjective reading can be. It’s not a ‘bad’ book, it had a lot of promise, and it picked up in the middle after a slow start. But in the end it just wasn’t for me and I can mainly pinpoint this to four things: way too much exposition and introspection on unimporta
This is a book of two parts, completely separate and wonderfully woven together.

The first part to the book is centred around Comrade Chief Inspector Chen Cao and his investigation of National Model Worker Guan Hongying, murdered and dumped in a canal. Set in the early '90s just after the infamous Tiananmen Square protests of '89 at a time of change for The Chinese Communist Party. Chen finds he is fighting not only to find the killer, but fighting against his peers and The Party.

Apr 13, 2015 Maddy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2001-reads
Death of a Red Heroine is an unusual and rather extraordinary book set in Shanghai, China, in the 1990s. A police officer and his friend are ostensibly patrolling the Suzhou River. In reality, they are meeting each other for the first time in 20 years and fishing off the boat. However, their reunion is marred by the discovery of a dead body. What transpires is an investigation that exposes us to the culture and societal norms of a place that is quite unknown to most people in the Western hemisph ...more
Feb 12, 2016 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Qiu Xiaolong is a novelist, translator, poet, and professor who has lived in St. Louis since 1988 when he came from China to the USA to study. Events in China prevented his returning there. He has written a series of crime novels featuring Inspector Chen Cao in Shanghai, of which this present volume was the first.

The novel’s plot is standard for the genre—sex, blackmail, and murder—and the narrative is straightforward and entertaining if unremarkable. The author’s ear for dialogue is acute, and
Grace Tjan
There is a lot to be liked in this debut novel, set in post-Tiananmen Shanghai, where people still cook in communal kitchens, personal phones (landlines!) are a rare privilege, and private enterprises are just beginning to sprout like bamboo shoots after a spring rain. Qiu Xiaolong, a Shanghai born-and-bred émigré, ably --- and at times evocatively --- captures the sights and sounds of his native city for a foreign audience, while sprinkling his narrative (originally written in English) with jus ...more
Alfonso D'agostino
Ho appena finito di leggere un giallo cinese.

Ok, detta così fa un po’ ridere. Giallo, cinese.

Mentirei se non descrivessi la tentazione come quasi irresistibile: pronto ad approdare in Estremo Oriente per il mio giro del mondo letterario (qui l’elenco di nazioni visitate), il gioco di parole veniva facile facile facile. E, ovviamente, non mi dispiaceva affatto l’idea di godermi un genere letterario molto mio con sfumature diverse da quelle europee od occidentali in genere.

Da questo punto di vista
Joyce Lagow
Apr 20, 2010 Joyce Lagow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
A police procedural set in Shanghai in 1990, Death of a Red Heroine has a rather mundane and straightforward plot which normally would not be enough to fill 484 pages. BUT the value of this book, and the very justifiable reason for its length, is the way the author has interwoven everyday life in china at the time, Chinese politics, some history, a wonderful selection of Chinese poetry from the song and Tang dynasties, references to Chinese classics such as The Dream of the Red Chamber, and a te ...more
Blaine DeSantis
May 03, 2016 Blaine DeSantis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really fine debut effort by Qiu Xiaolong who I first heard of on an NPR broadcast. This is the first of his Inspector Chen detective novels set in Shanghai with this book taking place in 1990 one year after the Tienanman Square protests. The book is both a mystery as well as a look at the cultural conflicts that are going on between the old China and new China, as well as an in the background love story. Chen is the head of the Special Crimes Unit, as well as being a poet and literary intellec ...more
Oct 05, 2016 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A young “national model worker,” a famous woman who has been nationally lauded for her fealty to the Communist Party, turns up dead in a Shanghai canal. The pursuit of the murderer is only part of what happens in this slowly unfolding mystery. The greatest suspense concerns whether Inspector Chen will find himself in jeopardy if he uncovers a case which will be an embarrassment to the Party.

China is changing to accept a market economy, but it is an uneasy time nevertheless. The story takes place

Description: Shanghai, May 1990. The body of a national model worker is found in Baili Canal. So begins the first of Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen novels. Poet and translator turned detective Chen Cao now heads the Special Case Squad, an assignment that brings political scrutiny with every move. Dramatised by Joy Wilkinson.

Directed by Toby Swift

Dramatisations of the second and third books in the Inspector Chen series, A Loyal Character Dance and When Red i
Amid nepotism, corruption, party politics, murder and hedonism, Xiaolong introduces the party's rising star Inspector Chen who often quotes poems from Tang dynasty and writes his own on the side.

What starts off as a routine murder mystery slowly morphs to a study of 90s China, Shanghai specifically. Through the eyes of Chen readers view the cramped living spaces, common cooking area, crawling traffic, living situations of ordinary government workers, pride and adoration of a Chinese housewife an
Jan 06, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie, LJ
From BBC Radio 4 - Drama:
Shanghai, May 1990. The body of a national model worker is found in Baili Canal. So begins the first of Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen novels. Poet and translator turned detective Chen Cao now heads the Special Case Squad, an assignment that brings political scrutiny with every move. Dramatised by Joy Wilkinson.

Directed by Toby Swift

Dramatisations of the second and third books in the Inspector Chen series, A Loyal Character Dance and When Red is Black, will follow.

Qiu Xia
Jan 16, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
DEATH OF A RED HEROINE. (2000). Qui Xiaolong. ****.
This is a fine first novel by this Shanghai born American import. There is a mystery at the core of it. A young woman, one who has been declared a National Model Worker, is found in an isolated canal, naked in a large plastic garbage bag. Chief Inspector Chen of the Special Crimes Department of the Shanghai Police has taken on the job of solving the crime. He is advised by one of the old, retired members of the party that he should take note of
Feb 09, 2013 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was recommended to me as a way of understanding the HCC (children of the high cadre communist party members) and the changes that have ocurred in modern China. It is a murder mystery set in Shanghai in the 1990s during Deng's capitalist reform. Incredibly interesting and well written. The main character, Inspector Chen is a poet (shades of PD James) and a man searching for justice. I'm hooked on this author now and understand there are more.
Oct 01, 2015 Leonard rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-mystery
An enjoyable mystery, though the info dump throughout the book slowed the book's pace. There wasn't much twists and turns so we have a hint of the killer before the first half of the book. The political maneuvering adds some drama.
Book Concierge
The naked body of a young woman is found in a remote canal. Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Special Case Squad, Homicide Division, Shanghai Police Bureau and his deputy, Detective Yu Guangming, discover that she is Guan Hongying, a national model worker. How could a young woman with such a responsible position have come to this end? Who might have killed her? Her coworkers and neighbors all swear that she had no boyfriend, that she lived a quiet, exemplary life, devoted to the Party and her work ...more
Jun 10, 2011 Karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
To my mind, the very best crime fiction in the world provides a window into the world in which it is set. Be that the psyche of the people, the machinations of the society, how a community is structured and operates, the laws and mores, even the way in which authorities deal with the disorder, how they implement authority. DEATH OF A RED HEROINE is set in Shanghai in 1990, a year after Tiananmen Square, an ancient city with a population tightly controlled by the Communist Party. Poet Chen Cao is ...more
Mar 19, 2010 Ali rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have had a busy week and so haven't had as much reading time as I wanted, and I was always anxious to get back to this novel. It is probably more about everyday life and politics in Shanghai in the recent past of the early '90's than it is a detective story, although the two are inextricably linked and the plot is certainly a good one. I must say I realised how horribly ignorant of recent (and not so recent) Chinese history I was. I knew about Mao and communism and that was about it really. I ...more
Sadie Forsythe
Jun 27, 2013 Sadie Forsythe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On finishing this book, I closed it feeling satisfied. This is generally all I ask of a book, but if I think back, I also remember that it took a good 200 pages for this book to get rolling and for me to really become interested and vested in it.

Part of this is probably do to the fact that I only have a loose understanding of the events surrounding the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent Party politics that play an important part in this book. But it also just has a slow start, which isn't he
Jan 17, 2012 Louise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The time and place of the Inspector Chen books are great. It's refreshing to read about the intricacies and complaints about other governments. It was interesting to read about the lives of normal people in Shanghai during the 80s and 90s. In some ways, it made me miss my hometown but in other ways, I'm glad my parents immigrated when they did.

As far as the mystery goes, it's not all that great and nothing comes as a surprise. The book plodded on in some parts and I couldn't really appreciate th
Oct 16, 2016 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, 2016
A new-to-me author with a very thoughtful mystery. I enjoyed learning quite a bit about culture in modern (set in 1990) Shanghai, China. It is clear without reading the author's biography that he is quite knowledgeable of Chinese poetry as the main character, Chief Inspector Chen, is a modernist poet in addition to being a police officer and poetry is quoted rather frequently throughout the novel. It is an interesting addition to the usual police procedural type of mystery.
Choice of Partners in Crime bookclub. Fairly typical detective solving a murder; however, this is set in Shanghai, China. You become immersed in the politics and lifestyle, which I found fascinating. It could have easily been half the length (464 pages). I found myself bored at times, just wanting to get to the end. My favorite aspect was the preparation and eating of the food mentioned throughout the book!
A refreshing change from the usual dramatic renderings of Chinese life -- this is a murder mystery, spiced with the whiffs of soulfulness and loneliness of the police inspector in charge of solving the murder, with romantic notes from a potential lady-lover set in evocatively rendered Shanghai. A pageturner, with unexpected plot twists, and the food descriptions are enough to make one salivate.
Just too two dimensional. I don't care. About anything.
Kristine Brancolini
Lately, I seem to be obsessed with international mysteries, especially the kind that address social, historical, and cultural issues in addition to murder and/or mayhem. Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen Cao series definitely falls into this category. I don't know why I hadn't run across it before now. The series was recommended to me by a colleague who has lived in Shanghai. Qiu left China in 1989. He now lives in the U.S. and writes in English, which is a plus. Oh, and he's a poet. An added bonus, ...more
review of
Qiu Xiaolong's Death of a Red Heroine
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 22, 2017

Read the full review here:

This is just the truncated review:

As I've probably written at least a few times elsewhere, I rejected crime fiction as a not-particularly literate populist genre for decades until I finally read writers such as Dashiell Hammett & Raymond Chandler. Now that I'm an enthusiast for the genre I'm discovering more & more of its p
Toni Osborne
Book 1, in the Inspector Chen series

This novel is something more than a suspenseful whodunit crime story it is one that explore in some ways the old-socialist/new capitalist tensions that were central to China’s ideology post-Tiananmen Square. In the early 1990 it was a difficult time of transition, new rules were being written and it was hard to know how to act. This story offers a peek into the often crooked world in which the population had to work in.

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai
Francisco Alfaro Labbé
Esta es la primera novela de la serie de inspector jefe Chen Cao, aunque no es la primera novela que leí de él (esa fue "Seda Roja"). Como primera historia, se puede ver sin problemas el espíritu que Qiu Xiaolong ha imprimido en su personaje, esta mixtura de policía y poeta, erudito de la tradición clásica de vates chinos que sirven para explicar muchos momentos de la novela y los sentimientos de los personajes. Eso, sumado a la siempre presente importancia de la tradición culinaria china, algo ...more
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Qiu Xiaolong (裘小龙) was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress (2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems (2003) and E ...more
More about Qiu Xiaolong...

Other Books in the Series

Inspector Chen Cao (10 books)
  • A Loyal Character Dancer (Inspector Chen Cao #2)
  • When Red Is Black (Inspector Chen Cao #3)
  • A Case of Two Cities (Inspector Chen Cao #4)
  • Red Mandarin Dress (Inspector Chen Cao #5)
  • The Mao Case (Inspector Chen Cao #6)
  • Don't Cry, Tai Lake (Inspector Chen Cao #7)
  • Enigma of China (Inspector Chen Cao #8)
  • Shanghai Redemption (Inspector Chen Cao #9)
  • Il était une fois l'inspecteur Chen

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