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Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen Novels) Paperback – July 1, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The shade of Charlie Chan hovers over Williams's entertaining supernatural mystery, the first in a new series starring Det. Insp. Wei Chen of Singapore Three's 13th precinct. In a near future that allows travel between Heaven and Hell and Earth, "snake agent" Chen finds himself in hot pursuit of ghost-girl Pearl Tang and the father who murdered her to protect his business of "supplying the souls of the virtuous to Hell." Chen is not only a crack paranormal crime investigator but also a licensed feng shui practitioner never without his compass. While the plot might have benefited from a few more action scenes and some martial arts, Williams (The Banquet of the Lords of the Night) provides a sleuthing feast for those with a taste for the exotic Orient.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In late twenty-first-century Singapore, detective inspector Wei Chen is a snake agent, a detective whose beat reaches to the fringes of Heaven and Hell. Married to a demon wife and surrounded by wary colleagues, he is nevertheless bored with investigating routine exorcism scams and bogus feng shui licenses. Then the newly deceased ghost of a wealthy industrialist's daughter fails to make her appointed arrival in Heaven. When it quickly becomes obvious that the industrialist himself is implicated in a netherworldly soul-trafficking scheme and is responsible for his daughter's death, Chen has to work with an unlikely sidekick, Zhu Irzh, one of Hell's own vice detectives and a demon cursed with a conscience. Twice nominated for Philip K. Dick awards, Williams should easily qualify for another with this original and stirring blend of futuristic technology and chilling excursions into postmortem landscapes. This first odd-couple pairing of mortal Chen and immortal Zhu Irzh opens a prospective series. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Detective Inspector Chen Novels
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (July 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597800430
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597800433
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,569,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By H. Keller on January 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Is it horror? Is it mystery? Is it science fiction?


Most of the fiction I read that features demons and the spawn of hell are usually blown apart my Space Marines or the Imperial Guard in the Warhammer 40,000 SF series. That having been noted, once I started Liz Williams' Snake Agent, it was "put off the chores" until I was done.

She effectively melds an interesting mystery story with a backdrop that includes an alternate super-high-tech Earth and the regions of Hell. The Publisher's Weekly review notes there is a hint of Charlie Chan. Nope. More like Peter Lorre's interpretation of Mr. Moto. Inspector Wei Chen doesn't just stand in a room and detect clues, he is action oriented and goes where he needs to be to get the job done - whether that might be a sewer line or the Ministry of Diseases in Hell.

Williams also weaves in interesting background that leaves you wanting more, and rosters a cost of supporting characters that rivals the best in series fiction.

I can't wait for the sequel - and I'm not a fantasy fan!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on May 19, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This seems a bit of a change of pace from Liz Williams's well-received earlier novels, such as The Poison Master and Banner of Souls. The tone is a bit lighter, the setup simply more playful -- which isn't to say that the book is comic or without darker moments. And it isn't to say that Snake Agent isn't enjoyable -- indeed, it is a fine, clever, absorbing novel.

It is subtitled "A Zhu Irzh & Inspector Chen Novel", suggesting the possibility of a series. And I have seen a couple of short stories set in the same milieu, including one ("Adventures in the Ghost Trade", Interzone, April 2000) from which the current novel is expanded. The setting is a curious combination of near future SF with Chinese-based fantasy. It might be called an "Alternate History Fantasy set in the Future", by which I mean that it takes for granted a world much resembling ours in which certain fantastical aspects are true, extrapolated into the near future. The location is a new city called Singapore Three, somewhere in South China. Inspector Chen is a policeman assigned to cases involving Hell -- cases where demons have intruded into our world, or the dead have ended up in the wrong place, or humans are engaged in illegal transactions with the underworld. He is uniquely suited to this duty: he has been granted the protection of a goddess, Kuan Yin, for his occasional trips to Hell, and he also has a domestic secret: his wife is a demon.

The story opens with an investigation into a recently deceased young woman, the daughter of a rich man, who seems to have gone to Hell by mistake. Or so her mother says. But before long Chen's investigation bumps into some political roadblocks. It seems highly place interests, in both worlds, are involved in something unsavory.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By lb136 VINE VOICE on November 1, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In "Snake Agent," the ever-clever Liz Williams concocts a tongue in cheek brew combining the police procedural, the horror tale, fantasy, and science fiction. Set in an alternate Earth that seems to be a few years beyond our present, it features Singapore 3's (don't ask what happened to Singapore 1 and 2) Detective Inspector Chen, the police inspector involved with the supernatural--the snake agent of the title. (This is the first of a series, but it's complete in itself.)

His current case leads him to hell, where he teams up with Hell's Seneschal Zhu Irzh in order to thwart a vast conspiracy involving one of Hell's many bureaus. Ms. Williams has serious issues with bureaus and the 'crats who run them (she's shown this before in an earlier novel, "Empire of Bones"), a fact that figures prominently in this novel's clever plot.

Wittily written (the characters often speak in phrases that evoke Jack Vance's--hardly a bad thing), cleverly plotted, the book's a total delight.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Carl V. Anderson on September 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Take a healthy dose of mythology and eastern religion, mix in the humor of Big Trouble in Little China and the buddy-cop banter of Lethal Weapon and adorn with a fantastic Jon Foster cover and what do you get? Well, you get the beginnings of an entertaining new mystery series by author Liz Williams.

The Snake Agent is a difficult book to categorize. A blurb from the publisher's website reads:

John Constantine meets Chow Yun-Fat in this near-future occult thriller. Detective Inspector Chen is the Singapore Three police department's snake agent, 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 own vice officers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, to investigate the illegal trade in souls.

Political pressures both earthly and otherworldly seem to block their investigation at every turn. As a plot involving Singapore Three's industrial elite and Hell's own Ministry of Epidemics is revealed, it becomes apparent that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected.

"Constantine meets Chow Yun-Fat" is a tremendously accurate description of Liz Williams' protagonist, Detective Inspector Wei Chen. I recently re-watched The Replacement Killers and I could not help picturing Chow Yun-Fat as Wei Chen's adventures unfolded before me. If ever filmed he would be the perfect choice.

I said that William's novel is hard to classify and it is. The story abounds with magic as does a typical fantasy novel.
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