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by Qiu Xiaolong
Sceptre, July 2006
368 pages
ISBN: 034089752X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A LOYAL CHARACTER DANCER is the second book in the series to feature Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau, a shrewd young police officer. Wen Liping, a pregnant former dancer and party loyalist, vanishes just as she is about to leave the country to join her husband in the West.

Her husband is already living in the US and has agreed to provide testimony in an illegal immigration case in the American courts against a smuggling ring. But he refuses to testify unless his wife is found and brought to join him. Chen finds himself drawn into the case when he is asked to find the missing woman in order not to jeopardise the already fragile relationship between the US and China.

A female American immigration official, US Marshall Catherine Rohn, joins him as she also tries to find the missing woman. As well as only having a week in which to find the missing woman, Chen finds himself investigating the gruesome murder of an unidentified man. It is therefore not surprising that Chen finds that he must involve himself with a number of unsavoury elements with no solid political backing and leaks within his own department.

Qiu Xiaolong won an Edgar Award for best first novel with the first book in the series DEATH OF A RED HEROINE and it is easy to understand why. A LOYAL CHARACTER DANCER is an excellent novel and the author has continued where he left off. One is drawn to the exceptional combination of a police procedural and portrayal of the economic and social life in China during the early 1990s.

The appearance of some of the characters from DEATH OF A RED HEROINE as well as the specialist in Chinese homeopathic medical theories is welcome for the continuity they bring to the story. Even the sexual tension between the two main protagonists is nicely dealt with and not overloaded.

Unlike the first novel in the series, A LOYAL CHARACTER DANCER is less about politics and the interference of the Communist Party in a person's private life. It is more about the insidious menace of triad gangs along with the history and impact of the Cultural Revolution and how it is being eroded as a way of life where bribery and corruption is becoming the norm. If you want to read a good solid police procedural aligned with an insight to life under the Cultural Revolution then Qiu Xiaolong has written a good book to get you started whether or not you have read the first book in the series.

Reviewed by Ayo Onatade, July 2006

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