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WILD PREY by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

What can Inspector Lu do when he’s confronted by a teenage girl who wants the police to look for her older sister and will not accept anything less than an all-out investigation?  Tan Meirong (in Chinese, the family name always comes first) tells the inspector that Meixiang left their town a year ago to work in Harbin and send money home to their small family.  The girls’ mother is dead, their father is disabled, so Meixiang’s salary is the only income they have.

Meirong tells Lu that it has been four days since she received a text from her sister; the sisters always have texted every day.  Meixiang’s last message said she was going on vacation, something the younger girl insists she would never do–“she would come home.”  Lu calls the Harbin police department, a constable there says they will look into the matter, and the inspector reluctantly puts the matter from his mind.  But the next morning Meirong is waiting for him on a bench outside the police station, insisting that she has to help with the investigation.

Worn down by Meirong’s insistance, Lu and the girl travel to Harbin to check with the police there, but Lu realizes that looking for the missing teenager is very low on their list.  Lu then visits the restaurant where Meixiang worked until a few days earlier, leaving Meirong unhappily waiting in his car.  The inspector discovers that the restaurant’s clients consist almost exclusively of obviously wealthy men, and the items on the menu feature “medicinal (aphrodisiacal) qualities,” another way of saying they increase virility.

The owner of the restaurant Shu Qi Da Qi, “Hoist the Big Banner,” is Wilson Fang.  He is polite to Lu and says he had given Meixiang a week’s leave when she requested it, but he has no idea why she wanted the time off or where she went.  He tells Lu he’ll contact him if he hears anything about Meixiang, but as soon as Lu leaves the restaurant Fang calls a number on a prepaid cell phone.  After a brief conversation he removes the SIM card from the phone, breaks it in half, and throws the pieces away.  He thinks to himself that he hopes the detective will be smart enough to stop asking questions because “dead bodies do have a way of creating a stink.”

Then Lu gets a phone call saying that a Mr. Jia wants to meet him and talk about Wilson Fang.  When Lu arrives at the designated hotel, he’s greeted not by Jia but by a face on a computer screen.  Jia says he’s a government administrator in the National Forestry and Grassland Administration and wants to work with Lu to bring charges against Fang, whom he suspects of illegal animal trade.  Jia thinks there may be a connection between that trade and the missing waitress in Fang’s restaurant, so Lu agrees to the collaboration.

Wild Prey is the second mystery in the Inspector Lu Fei series, and it is as well-written and exciting as Thief of Souls Brian Klingborg is an East Asia scholar who lived and worked in Asia for years.  His knowledge and understanding of Communist China clearly shows in the novel, and his understanding of its culture and people is evident.  Inspector Lu again proves to be one of the most compelling protagonists in detective fiction today.

You can read more about Brian Klingborg at various sites on the web.

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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