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A Loyal Character Dancer Hardcover – July 1, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews
Book 2 of 6 in the Inspector Chen Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anthony Prize-winner Qiu's second Inspector Chen mystery (after 2000's Death of a Red Heroine) offers an intriguing if somewhat labored glimpse of Chinese life in a period of evolution from communism to a more westernized culture. Former dancer and party loyalist Wen Liping has vanished just when she was to leave for the U.S. to join her husband, a key witness against a smuggling ring suspected of importing aliens to America. The same day higher authorities refer this case to Chen, who is a likable senior police agent with a love of literature, a badly mutilated body turns up in Shanghai's Bund Park. It takes many pages and train trips around China for Chen, in the company of visiting U.S. Marshal Catherine Rohn, before the two cases are finally linked, but the wait is worth it. Punctuated by proverbs from Confucius and ancient and modern Chinese poetry, Chen's reports show how he and Catherine gradually learn of Wen's unhappy past being programmed as a child to dance holding a "Loyalty" placard for Mao's Red Guards, later suffering brutal abuse by her husband. The more unsavory elements of modern Chinese society are revealed, from prostitution houses masking as karaoke clubs to vicious rival triads battling for turf, while materialism at its worst overcomes traditional values. Qiu's writing style can be somewhat stilted, and dialogue occasionally resembles "partyspeak," but the characters manage to achieve an engaging realism and charm, even while showing the underside of China in transition.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Inspector Chen (Death of a Red Heroine) of the Shanghai police tries to figure out the fate of a missing woman, a former Red Guard member who may be in trouble with her husband's criminal colleagues. Solid and eventful.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Soho Press; First Edition edition (September 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569473013
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569473016
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #474,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The second book in the Inspector Chen series is equal in many ways to outstanding predecessor, Death of a Red Heroine. Once again, the reader is drawn into an excellent mix of detective procedural and portrait of China in economic and social transition during the early '90s. Shanghai-based Inspector Chen is assigned to baby-sit a U.S. Marshal who has been sent to collect the wife of the key witness in a federal case against the smuggling of illegal immigrants into America. However, when the pregnant woman disappears without a trace, Chen, Detective Yu, and Marshal Catherine Rohn have only a week to track her down before the trial starts-and without his wife, the witness won't cooperate. At the same time, Chen insists on investigating the bloody murder of an unidentified man in Chen's favorite park (echoes of, or homage to, Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park).
Since Chen and Yu's histories were established in the first book, there is much less of their personal lives in this volume, which is a bit of a shame. There is also somewhat less about politics and the Party's influence on private life in this book. Instead the hidden hand of the triad gangs menaces Chen and his investigation, with unclear motives and unclear allegiances. In addition, the history and impact of the Cultural Revolution (a subject at the heart of the recent novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) becomes more directly relevant to the plot. Another main element is the proliferation of a "gray market" economy, where bribery and corruption are nibbling away at the Communist system. Distasteful as it is, Chen must involve himself with unsavory elements with no solid political backing in order to pursue his investigation, and indeed, possible leaks within his own department.
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Format: Paperback
Ambitious Chief Inspector Chen of the Shanghai Police is annoyed at being asked to baby-sit a visiting American detective. As much as he wants to help the US stop the smuggling of Chinese illegals into the US, the favors being done for one of the illegals in return for his testimony against a notorious snakehead leave a sour taste in Chen's mouth. It doesn't help that the wife of the illegal, whom the American inspector is supposed to escort back to the US, has inconveniently disappeared.
All this sets the stage for why a Shanghai chief inspector (even one with a degree in English and American literature) is investigating the probably gang-related disappearance of a Chinese lower-middle class woman with a blonde American tagging along (even a member of the US Marshals Service with a degree in sinology.) The situation gives Chen the opportunity to show the American (and us) the best of Chinese cuisine, music, literature and traditions, while exposing her to the everyday lives of the kind of people who populate a criminal investigator's world. Chinese cities are crowded and life in rural China is still harsh for most people. Qiu doesn't evade that reality, while he acknowledges the growing existence of an affluent, sophisticated middle class in cosmopolitan areas like Shanghai.
Be warned that the author uses his characters to discuss some hot political issues, such as the Chinese one-child per family policy and US immigration law. He takes care to allow both sides of every issue to be aired, but these are still topics that distress some readers. Qiu is not a `safe' writer. He probes and provokes and touches some tender spots.
The spotlight, however, remains on Chief Inspector Chen Cao, a most extraordinary man. He's intelligent, educated, thoughtful and realistic.
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Format: Hardcover
Book two in the (People's Republic) Inspector Chen saga meets the high expectations aroused by Qui Xiaolong's first, Death of a Red Heroine. A Loyal Character Dancer is just a damn good mystery--a police procedural of the first water, dangling clues like fish-meal dumplings in front of our noses and leading us on a hunt for the wife of a man slated to testify in a crucial people-smuggling case in the U.S.
Reading A Loyal Character Dancer offers the exotic land of China in all its complexity, with neither the Revolution nor the Cultural Revolution ever forgotten. We discover a still-thoroughly traditional China entrenched in. but not extinguished by, the peculiarities wrought by Communism--a China where an herbalist works on a Karioke-bar Mr. Big Bucks and from which the influence of the criminal triads has never disappeared.

SoHo Press has made a big success--at least a literary one--by bucking the mainstream insistence that Americans won't read mysteries set in overseas locales unless the protagonist is thoroughly a U.S. type. That theory is just another irksome example of the dumbing down of literature to appeal to the `masses,' but thank goodness for SoHo and books like Death of a Red Heroine and A Loyal Character Dancer. Any mystery lover will understand what author Qui Xiaolong is striving for and achieves in A Loyal Character Dancer.
As the now St. Louis-based professor did in his Anthony-winning Death of a Red Heroine, Qui Xiaolong has concocted a superb and classic tale of crime investigation, one with memorable secondary characters and fascinating cultural intrigue. We must thank the author for taking us into a very up-to-date Communist China and presenting us with the full scope of so much that goes on there. The book is a stunning success, intricate and entertaining in the extreme. G. Miki Hayden, author of Pacific Empire--"�people whose vibrant existence on the page is never in doubt�" NYTimes.
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