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Red Mandarin Dress: An Inspector Chen Novel (Inspector Chen Cao) Hardcover – November 27, 2007

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Product Details

  • Series: Inspector Chen Cao (Book 5)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (November 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312371071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312371074
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,204,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bringing 1990s Communist China alive, Qiu's masterful fifth Inspector Chen mystery (after 2006's A Case of Two Cities) finds Shanghai terrorized by its first-ever serial killer. The murderer dresses his victims' corpses in fancy red mandarin dresses before leaving them in public places. Insp. Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department has taken a step back from his professional life to pursue an advanced literature course instead of investigating a politically sensitive corruption case, but now he must return to active duty and help in the manhunt. He learns that the symbolic garb may be connected to the corruption scandal, but not before a young female officer falls prey. The solution may strike some as a little pat, but the first-rate characterizations and elegant portrait of a society attempting to move from rigid Maoist ideologies to an accommodation with capitalism will keep readers engaged and eager for more. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"His characters are expertly drawn, his prose superb and interlaced with thought-provoking poetry that depicts what is being lost in China." --Library Journal (starred review) on A CASE OF TWO CITIES
"Qiu Xiaolong's series about Inspector Chen Cao is one of my favorites, for the way it tells exciting stories while revealing fascinating details of Chinese life--everything from food and poetry to politics." --Chicago Tribune on A CASE OF TWO CITIES
"Shanghai is vividly drawn, crackling with energy and a scintillating cast."
--The Economist on A Case of Two Cities

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Customer Reviews

Mr. Qiu's best novel yet!
Charles Turner
Highly recommended even for those, like me, who are not avid fans of mystery stories.
Steve Koss
The last third of the book becomes quite boring and essentailly a chore to read.
Esam Al-Shareffi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Bobby D. on January 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Red Mandarin Dress is the fifth book in the Inspector Chen series and Xiaolong returns to the story and plot which made the first in the series such a good read. However, that first book, Death of a Red Heroine is still the best in this series. None of the follow up books equals its sense of time and place and more detailed characterizations. Yet this series of books is a guilty pleasure because of the characters and staging, Shanghai in the 1990s as China transforms itself from communism and Cultural Revolution to a kind of corrupt crony capitalism. In Mandarin Dress Xiaolong seems to make the assumption you have read previous books in the series as he spends no time on character introduction and I suggest you begin by reading each in order. The big failing here again is that Xiaolong spends little time in more fully defining the various characters and letting them grow. This book is almost totally a police procedural novel with a plot (killer) the reader can guess at long before Inspector Chen solves the case. But it has always been the getting there rather than the surprise that makes these books work. Xiaolong is not a great writer as he uses sharp sentences without much nuance to move the case/plot along. Yet Chen is still such an interesting invention, here he takes a vacation to write a masters thesis in literature only to be drawn into catching Shanghai's first serial killer. This series might be an acquired taste but I know I will be picking up the next book with the hope that Chen's partner Yu, Yu's wife Peiqin and Chen's new girl friend White Cloud are more fully developed perhaps with their own story becoming a more important part of the next case for Inspector Chen.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By H. Keller on December 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the best of the series so far. It tells an interesting story and mechanically, it is the most effectively written of the Inspector Chen novels. In short: It packs a lot of plot and subplot into a neat little package.

The murder is an interesting crime with roots in the Cultural Revolution, and a sub-plot about Chen working on an MA degree folded neatly into the pursuit of the killer. The regular characters all move forward in their development, and you get a far better picture of Inspector Chen as a man trapped in a career which is is good at, but which doesn't satisfy his soul.

A few reviews of the previous books have been critical of the amount of poetry and food conversation - well, here the right balance is struck. And even the rather disturbing "live monkey brain" (or as Chen calls them - cruel dishes) plays into the plot near the end. For me, I'll stick to cashew chicken.

The only down side is that the book is read and I probably have another 12 months to wait for the next one!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Esam Al-Shareffi on December 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have to take exception with the 5-star reviews that have been posted. To justify my three-star review, let me go over some of the strong and weak points of the novel:

Strong points:
-Gives a very nice picture of the city of Shanghai, and more importantly, of the divide between rich and poor, capitalism and socialism, as well as giving the reader an incredibly interesting look at life in China in the late 1990's.
-The book is nicely seasoned with numerous descriptions of food, everywhere from a cheap box dinner to a banquet of delicacies, and the use of quotations from Chinese poetry (while at time distracting and seemingly pointless) often adds to the story.
-The numerous pressures on Mr. Chen and his colleagues, particularly his handling of political circumstances, and his ability to both investigate crime, deal with his literature paper, and his (possible) dealings with White Cloud are interesting to follow.

-Barely half way through the novel, the suspect becomes obvious and the mystery is essentially resolved. The last third of the book becomes quite boring and essentailly a chore to read.
-Mr. Chen's meeting with the suspect is incredibly unrealistic and far too overdone. The calling in of favors, the preparation of "cruel dishes", the use of White Cloud, etc., is all quite unnecessary and far from providing an exciting apex, is actually an exercise in tedium.
-Mr. Chen's handling of the case at the end is quite inept and a sharp contrast from his earlier (brilliant) investigation and handling of the case. It was really painful to sit through it.
-The conclusion is unsatisfying. While no one expects "sad" or "happy" endings nowadays, the way this case ended was foolish.

So, while the novel is interesting, and at a little over 300 pages a quick read (five hours or less,) I was less than impressed, particularly given the numerous five star reviews.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on December 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
To the ranks of such modern-day fictional detectives as Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko and P.D. James's Adam Dalgliesh, add Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen. RED MANDARIN DRESS presents Qiu's irrepressible Shanghai police inspector in his fifth crime novel along with his familiar cast of side characters from those earlier works. Like Arkady Renko, Chen is a loner and a thinker, a dogged deducer and a clever intuitionist whose case approach marks him as idiosynchratic among his peers. Like Renko, Chen lives alone, dresses somewhat lackadaisically, appeases his superiors just enough so he can ignore them, and generally follows the proverbial beat of his own drummer. Like Adam Dalgliesh, Chen is a literary detective, well educated and given to studying and writing poetry.

RED MANDARIN DRESS opens with the appearance of a young woman's murdered body, found posed in a flowerbed on a very public Shanghai street. The dead woman, Jasmine, was a hotel worker, living an utterly nondescript life, but she is found wearing a torn red mandarin dress, usually called a qipao or cheongsam, in the classic Chinese style: high collar, full length, body hugging, side slit to the thigh. Hers is a vintage design, however, dating back to the days before the Cultural Revolution. Exactly one week later, another young woman is found murdered, dressed the same way and left in another very public Shanghai location. Another week passes, and a third body appears, and then a fourth, one of Chen's associates who had agreed to work undercover. At the same time Shanghai is gripped by its first publicly reported serial murder case, Inspector Chen is asked to follow another case involving public corruption in a real estate development. He is also experiencing a sort of dual existential and career crisis.
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