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Enigma of ChinaEnigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: An Inspector Chen novel
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Category: Crime / Mystery
Setting: Shanghai, China
Author Website: http://www.qiuxiaolong.com/index2

About this book:

It is timely that as i write, the protesters are blocking the streets of Hong Kong and demanding more control from Beijing. The very premise of Xiaolong’s book Enigma of China is a government determined – no matter the cost – to keep harmony in a country that is increasingly dissatisfied with its government.

This is the first Inspector Chen novel I have read but it is the eighth book in the series. I was surprised that it didn’t feel like I was coming late to the table even when a few events from previous books were mentioned. And I very much enjoyed the mix of poetry within the prose of the story. It reminded me of theme music. If you have ever heard a movie scene without all the background music put it in, it sounds empty. That is how I would imagine Inspector Chen’s world would be without poetry. It was not a distraction but an accompaniment to the story that I very much enjoyed.

The mystery in this novel is politically intriguing and complex. Inspector Chen does his best to investigate without giving reasons for himself to be investigated. Which brings up one of the reasons I like to read books set in other countries. Poor health keeps me from traveling and I find most travel journals are not entertaining enough for my tastes. So I look for stories written by someone who has actually lived in another country and understands the culture. Those books, like Xiaolong’s, allows you to crawl inside that world and experience (for a little while anyway) what it is like to be there. For example, pay attention to Inspector Chen’s description of food. I’ve moved only a few states from where I was born and can’t get certain food items that were staples of my childhood diet. You can feel Xiaolong’s appreciation for China’s traditional food whenever Chen gets hungry; Xiaolong’s now lives in St. Louis.

So why didn’t I give this book – which I obviously enjoyed – five stars? I think it’s because I found the ending so uncomfortable. It certainly wasn’t the writing or the wrap up in the mystery; Xiaolong satisfies all the necessities on those scores so don’t worry you’ll know who “done it” in the end. But the very tension that Inspector Chen lives with in China hung heavy on my shoulders as I closed this book. I didn’t like it. So I am torn.

The reader in me wants to leave a book satisfied and possibly a little educated. Xiaolong did both very well. So I think on that hand it deserves five stars. But I’m agitated by the book. Something in my blood is nervous and unsettled and waiting for the other shoe to drop. How can I possibly move on to another book – any book – feeling this way? I feel like I need a reading palate cleanser. So as a reviewer I have to caution readers this book will make you feel as if you are left hanging. And so I only gave it four stars.

I may be splitting hairs with my rating but I think/hope Xiaolong is pleased that his book made me feel both the thrill of a good mystery and the oppression that has brought Hong Kong into the street this week.

Learn about other books in this series:

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

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