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Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen #1)

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  1,608 Ratings  ·  231 Reviews
Detective Inspector Chen is the Singapore Three police department's snake agent - the detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. Chen has several problems: in addition to colleagues who don't trust him and his mystical ways, a patron goddess whom he has offended and a demonic wife who's tired of staying home alone, he's been paired with one of Hell's ...more
Paperback, 264 pages
Published July 1st 2006 by Night Shade Books (first published 2005)
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Sep 14, 2016 Carol. rated it it was amazing
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)
Mar 19, 2012 Whitaker rated it liked it
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
ᴥ Irena ᴥ
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
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
Dec 04, 2013 Terence rated it it was ok
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
Arielle Walker
I have to confess - this is my first ever e-book (due to the fact that the entire Auckland library system doesn't seem to have one physical copy of this first book in the series, despite having multiples of all the sequels)...

I give in. It's really not as awful a reading experience as I expected. Maybe it's time to end my e-boycott for good - only for when no actual book copies are available, of course!

Anyway, the actual book itself is fantastic, I can't wait to read more of the series.

Yes - eve
Apr 27, 2008 Felicia rated it it was amazing
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!
Sep 16, 2007 Brownbetty rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 23, 2007 Trin rated it it was amazing
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
The Shayne-Train
Apr 29, 2014 The Shayne-Train rated it it was amazing
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.
Tamora Pierce
Feb 24, 2010 Tamora Pierce rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf, adult
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
Katharine Kimbriel
Jan 14, 2012 Katharine Kimbriel rated it really liked it
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
Rachel Neumeier
Nov 05, 2014 Rachel Neumeier rated it really liked it
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
Oct 14, 2011 Algernon rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
[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
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
Dec 28, 2008 Punk rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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)
Aug 18, 2008 Christine (AR) rated it really liked it
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
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
Oct 21, 2013 Dana rated it it was amazing
Thanks to the publisher and netgalley for an review copy.

This is one of those books which you simply have to savor. Author Liz Williams first novel in the Inspector Chen series is a book to be enjoyed slowly. An urban alternative reality police procedural mystery sent in near future China, the book is the story of a Chinese police detective, handling cases caught between Heaven and Hell. Working with a demon inspector straight from Hell, Inspector Chen must placate his guardian goddess, protect
Apr 23, 2015 X. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
An awful book. Not sure if it's trying to be a kitsch social commentary, but if it is, it's not doing it very intelligently. The characters are quite plastic, there's nothing about any of them I can really sympathise with (even the damsel in distress, Inari) and there's nothing really gripping about the plot as Chen just zooms to one orientalised location after another. Probably not very well-researched, especially in terms of language.

Maybe readers in the US/UK would love this book. If you liv
Angel Erin
Aug 03, 2015 Angel Erin rated it really liked it
Recommended to Angel by: Shadowdenizen
I really enjoyed this! It reminds me of The Dresden Files, but Eastern. It was very unique and I was glad that it wasn't predictable. I love paranormal/detective series. :)
For whatever reason, I never connected to Snake Agent. Even when there was something about it that I normally would have found interesting, it just never drew me in.

Snake Agent is an urban fantasy, science fiction, mystery mash up set in an alternate universe where Singapore’s started franchising. Detective Inspector Chen handles supernatural cases for the Singapore Three police. He regularly deals with Heaven, Hell, and the spirits of the deceased. He soon becomes unwittingly embroiled in an in
Mike Shevdon
Jul 25, 2010 Mike Shevdon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
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
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
Nov 28, 2013 Rakib_khan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
First things first, I Got this book free from NetGalley for a review, so thank you netgalley for this opportunity.

To be honest, I am not really a fan of Urban Fantasy, in fact sometimes I even go out of my way to avoid the genre as a whole. But with this book i really read some good stuff about this on the internet and am interested in books with an Asian setting (as I am from Asia), so I decided to give it a try. And after my own read I can gladly say it didn't disappoint at all.

This book is se
Dec 22, 2008 Angela rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
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
Nov 30, 2011 Mick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-fantasy
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
Jun 06, 2007 Jam rated it it was amazing
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.
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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)

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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
“Typical of Hell, thought Chen: overdone and ostentatious and overwhelming, designed to cow an already beaten populace.
"Wow" he said. The demon grinned sympathetically.
"It is a bit excessive, isn't it?"
"Who does it belong to?"
"My employer is the First Lord of Banking. Head of the Ministry of Wealth.”
More quotes…