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THIEF OF SOULS by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

Wuxi, a small town in China where the crime rate is extremely low, is the new home of Inspector Lu Fei.  Exiled there because of disagreements with his former boss, Lu frequents the Red Lotus bar several times a week, mainly for lack of anything better to do, but also because its owner, Yanyan, is easy to look at and a pleasure to talk to.

It’s Lu’s night off, so he’s surprised when his cell phone rings.  It’s a call from the paichusuo, the local Public Security Bureau station.  The paichusuo has the same functions as a Western police station, being in charge of crime prevention, public safety, and traffic control, plus a few other duties that are essential in China–including keeping watch on foreigners and visitors in Wuxi.

Lu is informed that there’s been a murder in town, so he and several officers go to the scene.  The house belonged to the murder victim,Yang Fenfang, a young woman from Wuxi whose mother recently died.   So recently, in fact, that a funeral portrait of Yang Hong, Fenfang’s mother, is still on a shelf, near an altar with her ancestral tablet and offerings of food and drink to follow Mother Yang into the afterlife.

A neighbor informs Lu about Zang Zhaoxing, an admirer of Fenfang’s, and Lu goes to interview him.  Zang tells the police that he works at the local pork processing plant, so it’s not too surprising when they find a set of coveralls in the yard with stains that could be blood.  After Zang makes an unwise attempt to flee, Lu and the other officers capture him and bring him to the paichusuo for more interrogation.

But before the questioning can occur, Lu calls the Criminal Investigation Bureau and is told by Superintendent Song that he and his staff will arrive in Wuxi in the morning and take over the case.  When Song arrives, he’s accompanied by Ma Xiulan, a forensic physician.   When Dr. Ma begins her examination of Fenfang, she and the police discover that an autopsy has already been performed on the corpse.  Or, at least someone has cut open the body and stitched it closed again.

Brian Klingborg has written a fascinating novel of life in today’s China.  In Lu Fei he has created a character with intelligence, personality, and morality who must live within the authoritarian political system while maintaining his integrity in the face of those who more readily accept an easy solution to a crime.  I hope that Lu Fei will appear in many more novels that provide readers insight into modern-day China.

Brian Klingborg has a master’s in East Asian Studies and lived and traveled in Asia for years.   You can read more about him at various sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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