Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen, #1)” as Want to Read:
Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen, #1)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Snake Agent

(Detective Inspector Chen #1)

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  2,160 ratings  ·  300 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 (first published September 1st 2005)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Snake Agent, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Shoshánnah Different. Not as snarky and there's less goofing around. There's a cool human-detective/demon-detective chemistry though. I'd say it's tad bit darker…moreDifferent. Not as snarky and there's less goofing around. There's a cool human-detective/demon-detective chemistry though. I'd say it's tad bit darker, especially compared to earlier Dresden. It's not a cheap copy though, it's unique and worth the read.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Elaine The opening scene actually occurs later in the story. The second and third books in the series do not begin this way.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,160 ratings  ·  300 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen, #1)
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: urban fantasy lovers, hard-boiled detective fans
Snake Agent will always occupy a unique position in my library and in my reading history. First, as an aside, is the sheer beauty of the cover art. Four out of the five published books in the series have the same artist, and all four are stunning. Second, and more importantly, is the the familiar world-weary police officer trope in urban fantasy moved into a Chinese cultural and mythological setting. I haven't read many books in an Asian setting, much less urban fantasy, and Williams seems to ha ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mimi by: carol.
4½ 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 a good lunch break read.

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

I don't usually read cover blurbs anymore because of gimmicky taglines, but this one is a hilarious and accurate descriptio
Jan 10, 2012 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 diora
Jan 21, 2009 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
Apr 27, 2008 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!
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was immediately drawn into this series by Liz Williams. Partly because of the enthusiastic reviews by my GR Friends, carol and Mimi. and, also by the way Williams quickly got my attention by the world-building and the well-drawn character of Detective Inspector Chen.

Williams imagines a world of the future where a metropolis can be franchised. D. I. Chen is the go—to person when demons and Chinese mysticism are involved with crime in Singapore Three. There are many familiar elements in this wor
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
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
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this. Was a little slow to get going, but I kept going because the concept interested me: a future China police procedural with ghosts and demons and a really intriguing afterlife and magic system. There are also some truly creepy developments in communications/networking technology.

Main character Detective Inspector Chen is a respectful, hardworking guy whose colleagues are very uncomfortable with him because Chen handles the cases involving ghosts and incursions of aspects of t
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
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urban-fantasy
I have lost count of all the urban fantasy novels that I’ve read over the years, only a fraction of which are recorded on Goodreads. After a while, the reoccurring tropes are so familiar that you can generally predict the storyline from a handful of plot points.

Snake Agent is the first urban fantasy novel that I’ve read in years which is completely different.

Author Liz Williams (whose intriguing bio states she has degrees in philosophy and artificial intelligence) has crafted a futuristic de
Tamora Pierce
Dec 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, sf
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
Sep 04, 2007 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
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
The Shayne-Train
Mar 31, 2014 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.
Peter Tillman
Fine memories of this series opener, which just got put high on the reread list. First read in 2005.

2020 reread: still a wonderful novel. Holds up well to re-reading. I like the mix of Chinese mythology with sfnal extrapolation. Very nicely done. 4.6 stars.
For a real review, read Carol's:
Sep 18, 2007 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
colleen the convivial curmudgeon
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
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
Nov 05, 2014 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
Sep 16, 2007 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
Katharine Kimbriel
Dec 12, 2010 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
Julie Davis
Mar 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Note: still very enjoyable on rereading.

Original review

I heard about this series on the horror podcast Pseudopod. The first of the series, the reader is plunged into action in progress so that I repeatedly kept checking for other books because I was sure there was a previous one that started off a bit slower and explained more. Nope. Set in 21st century Singapore, with Asian-flavored Heaven and Hell as mighty influencers of human life, Detective Inspector Chen and his sidekick, Demon Zhu
Snake Agent is an unexpected little gem: There are many books that try to blend fantasy and Chinese mythology, but few pull it off as successfully as this. The worldbuilding is fresh and playful, the plot speeds along nicely throughout, and the characters are a delight. (I was sold from the first mention of a badger-teakettle demon familiar. <3)

I’m usually not a huge fan of supernatural magic-and-demons stories, but I really admire the way the mythology has been spun into the setting here — some
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Oct 14, 2011 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
Jul 27, 2011 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
Maggie K
Dec 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Detective Chen is a Chinese cop who is assigned to the paranormal issues in his department because he is in a 'close relationship' with a goddess, and is presumably granted her favor. When he realizes a young, well-bred girl is now a ghost in Hell, he has to go there (where he ends up teaming up with a surprisingly moral detective from Hell's Department of Vice) to figure out what is happening.

I did like this, and liked the characters, but all the detail was a bit much. Hell was clearly describe
Christine (AR)
Aug 03, 2008 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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Marta Duda-Gryc
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
4,5. Fantastic! Enchanting world-building (boy, am I glad I've just translated a Tokyo travel guide and all those Asiatic mythology elements in the book weren't entirely illegible to me...), great characters and interactions (I loved the buddy cop routine between inspector Chen and seneschal Zhu Irzh straight from Hell), the plot, interesting even though there were lots of deus ex machina moments (but somehow, in this mythological setting, they really made sense).
Ah, and all those little hilari
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Urban Fantasy ser...: #5: Snake Agent 6 33 Jul 04, 2015 08:20AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Human (Rise of the Jain #3)
  • The Naming of the Beasts (Felix Castor, #5)
  • Tooth and Claw
  • Drowned Country (The Greenhollow Duology, #2)
  • The Baron of Magister Valley
  • The Devil You Know (Felix Castor, #1)
  • Venus in Copper (Marcus Didius Falco, #3)
  • The Iron Hand of Mars (Marcus Didius Falco, #4)
  • Gawain: Knight of the Goddess: Restoring an Archetype
  • A Murderous Procession (Mistress of the Art of Death, #4)
  • Death Comes As Epiphany (Catherine LeVendeur, #1)
  • Vicious Circle (Felix Castor, #2)
  • The Black Song (Raven's Blade, #2)
  • The Pearl King (Crow Investigations, #4)
  • Sisters of the Vast Black
  • Dead Things (Eric Carter #1)
  • Velocity Weapon (The Protectorate #1)
  • Magic Forged (Hall of Blood and Mercy, #1)
See similar books…
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

Other books in the series

Detective Inspector Chen (6 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)
  • Morningstar (Detective Inspector Chen, #6)

Related Articles

Sarah J. Maas is an author who almost needs no introduction, at least in the world of young and new adult fiction. She's a multiple New York...
214 likes · 27 comments
“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.” 9 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…