Joyce Lagow's Reviews > Death of a Red Heroine

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong
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Apr 20, 10

bookshelves: 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 terrific up-close view of Shanghai, where most of the action takes place. The protagonist, Chief Inspector Chen Cao, is an earnest rather young man for his position; it is through him, a poet as well as a policeman, that we are introduced to ancient poetic couplets.[return][return]Because of all the subtext, the book is really rich, a marvelous introduction to the post-Mao era in China, when the reforms of Deng Xiaoping which included a market rather than state economy, started a loosening of the rigid restrictions the Communist Party had imposed on everyday life. Through the characters, we get a good look at the damage done by the Cultural Revolution but also at the curious benefits it had as well� not many, but they existed.[return][return]There are many more such revelations in the book, for which a murder plot is a good excuse. After reading it, I am very much interested in delving into Chinese history� and poetry, which normally would not grab me at all.[return][return]The only drawback to the book is the writing style, which is very formal English in short, declarative sentences, for the most part. Intriguing is the lack of common contractions, for example.[return][return]However, that� s a minor flaw� the book reads well and is extraordinarily informative in an entertaining way. This is the first book in a series, and I intend to read further.[return][return]Highly recommended.
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