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When Red is Black Hardcover – July 1, 2004

44 customer reviews
Book 3 of 6 in the Inspector Chen Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like its predecessors Death of a Red Heroine (2000) and A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), Qiu's third Inspector Chen mystery provides an insightful look into modern China. When Yin Lige, the author of a banned book, is found murdered in her Shanghai apartment, detective Yu Guangming and his boss, Chief Inspector Chen Cao, must solve a case that may have far-reaching political and social implications. (The "red" of the title refers to Mao Zedong's Red Guard, the "black" to the supposed enemies of the working class denounced during the Cultural Revolution.) Yu doggedly pursues all leads, even as personal misfortunes threaten to ruin his life. Chen must help from afar as he takes time off to earn extra income translating business documents for an ambitious entrepreneur. Suspects range from the poignant "shrimp woman," who peels shrimp for a living, to possible enemies from the distant past. Yu soon uncovers the long-ago romance between the victim and Yang Bing, a college professor. This love affair, delicately rendered, allows the author to include many fragile but beautiful Chinese poems. Deftly depicting a China fractured along class and party lines even in matters of love, Qiu also dramatically demonstrates how the past affects the daily lives of Chinese people today. Only a banal solution to the mystery spoils an otherwise engrossing read.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Qiu, born in Shanghai and now residing in St. Louis, made a splashing debut in 2000 with the award-winning Death of a Red Heroine. Critical response differs for his third Inspector Chen mystery. Some offered effusive praise for Qiu’s poetic literary style and sociological flavor, reflecting on China with both respect and sorrow. Others wondered why this plodding book was shelved in the mystery section. Hard-boiled mystery lovers may want to take a pass; those intrigued by the culture in China and the right expectations for this mystery will be satisfied.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press (July 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569473692
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569473696
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This third book in the "Inspector Chen" series strays even further from mystery genre conventions with its portrayal of economic and social upheaval in modern China. Set in Shanghai in what appears to be the mid-1990s (it is definitely not set in the present day, as some people seem to think), capitalism is on the rise and everyone is trying to figure out what it all means. For Inspector Chen, it means taking a week of vacation from the Special Homicide Squad to work for a wealthy businessman with triad connections. He is hired to translate a business proposal for an "Old Shanghai" themed shopping and entertainment zone into fluid English that will impress American investment bankers. Meanwhile, his deputy, the capable Detective Yu is assigned to solve the murder of a minor dissident author. Yu is a hard-working policeman, a husband and father struggling to convince himself that being a policeman is a worthwhile job in the new economy. Although Chen is busy working on the translation, he calls in for updates and does some sleuthing on the side as well.

The mystery itself isn't particularly fascinating, but it does provide an interesting perspective on modern Chinese history for those who aren't particularly familiar with it. The murdered woman had written an autobiographical novel ("The Death of a Chinese Professor") about her forbidden love affair with an intellectual poet when they were in a reeducation camp during the Cultural Revolution. She had been a Red Guard who was then denounced, and he was an intellectual, and thus politically"black" (ie. an enemy of the working class). The Cultural Revolution looms over the proceedings, and proves to have a powerful legacy even three decades later.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By M. C. Crammer VINE VOICE on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This Chinese mystery (written by a man who left China 15 years ago) was most interesting to me because of the Shanghai setting and the theme of how China has changed in the past fifty or so years, particularly with the radical egalitarianism of the Red Guards being replaced by entrepreneurial values, where everything seems to be turned upside down. In this book, "Red" is a metaphor for the Maoist/communist and "black" is a metaphor for "capitalist/right wing." During the cultural revolution, intellectuals and anyone with "capitalist" (defined broadly) relatives were persecuted as black by the Red Guards. Now the new business owners are flourishing, the young want Western lifestyles, and the promised pensions of the heroes of the revolution are going unpaid because of the economic changes of privatisation. Hence "The Red Is Black" -- everything in society is suddenly changing -- what was out is in and vice versa.

This is a literate mystery, with lots of Chinese poetry and talk of Chinese philosophy, politics, and literature. The plot involves a woman who had been sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution who is found dead. She is regarded as sort of a dissident because of a book she published about a professor who perished as a result of the Cultural Revolution. The powers that be fear that they will be blamed for her death by the foreign press, although they insist they had nothing to do with it. They want Inspector Chen to solve this crime quickly to prove that it was not a political death. Inspector Chen has taken a couple of weeks off work, however, to translate a document (for big bucks) and can only get involved in an advisory capacity -- it's his subordinate Yu (and Yu's wife) who are doing the footwork.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on July 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Party Secretary Li cannot find Chief Inspector Chen Cao, so he assigns the investigation of the murder of author Yin Lige to detective Yu Guangming. Though Yu needs to find an apartment in overcrowded Shanghai, he cannot "politically" refuse a case given to him by the Party Secretary. He quickly learns that Yin wrote a banned book on falling in love during the Cultural Revolution.
Meanwhile the Shanghai New World Group CEO Yu provides Chen with an offer he cannot refuse. He will pay Chen an exorbitant fee to do him a favor by translating a major business proposal into English.
Yu pursues threads that lead nowhere while Chen earns money translating the business documents. Still Chen advises his junior partner on how to proceed. Soon Yu finds out that Yin shared a romance during the Cultural Revolution with Professor Yang Bing. Could someone have silenced the author because of something that occurred when Yin and Yang were together at a time when the Red Guard reeducated or killed the Black (anti worker)?
The third Chen tale is an exciting Chinese police procedural, but somewhat different than that of the two previous novels (see DEATH OF A RED HEROINE and A LOYAL CHARACTER DANCER) as Yu leads much of the investigation. The deep look at modern day Shanghai and brilliantly incorporating Chinese poetry into the love story of Yin and Yang enhance the story line. Though the ending seems soft, perhaps because the rest of WHEN RED IS BLACK is so powerful, Qiu Xialong provides a deep look at how historical events impact the present inside a terrific murder mystery.
Harriet Klausner
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