Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


THE MAGISTRATE by Brian Klingborg: Book Review

Harbin, a city in China’s northernmost province, has a population of nearly six million.  That number can easily support all kinds of illegal activities–prostitution, gambling, sex trafficking, and drugs, for example.  The Nangkang Benevolent Association, a misnomer if ever there was one, is ready and willing to ensure that all the citizens have easy access to these vices.

The Association consists of eleven high-level men, including the district’s major, the president of the court, and the chief of the homicide division of the police department.  Together these men and eight others control every aspect of the Nangkang district, including public safety, construction, housing, and investments.  Their power is unrivaled, and they have been untouchable, until now, when someone begins targeting its members.

First, Mr. Chen is abducted and brutally beaten; second, Mr. Liu is branded with the Chinese character for “thief” on his face; third, Mr. Zhao has his left hand amputated.  After each assault the men are told it was ordered by The Magistrate.  Then, following these attacks, three additional members of the Association are murdered.

At this point it’s reluctantly decided to call in the Criminal Investigation Bureau, which means bringing in Inspector Lu Fei, formerly a member of the Nangkang police department and a bitter enemy of the chief of the homicide division, Mr. Xu.

Lu and Constable Sun arrive in Harbin and join their colleagues Dr. Ma and Jin; these four make up a team far removed from the corruption of the Nangkang.  However, there is a great deal of history and bad feelings between Lu and the members of the homicide squad.  Its chief is hoping that Lu’s group fails to find those behind the attacks and killings, but at the same time he can’t realistically pretend that someone isn’t trying to decimate the Association.

Of course, there is crime in other districts that the Criminal Investigation Bureau oversees as well.  Lu’s official title is deputy chief of the Raven Valley Township Public Security Bureau, and he returns home to investigate a particularly brutal crime in which the victim had his teeth removed, his fingers cut off, and was then burned alive.  When the medical examiner and Lu examine the corpse, they discover a tattoo that indicates that the man was a member of a Korean gang.

Lu knows that one of the areas in which the Koreans operate is sex trafficking, bringing young Korean women over the border with promises of jobs and opportunities for a better life.  These are false assurances, not surprisingly, as the gangs force the women to serve as prostitutes and keep them virtual prisoners.  There’s no way they can escape, at least not on their own, but then a mysterious benefactor arrives to help.

The Magistrate is a tense mystery, one which delves deeply into the brutality and corruption that is part of today’s China.  The characters, both good and evil, are perfectly drawn, and the plot will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the book’s end.

Brian Klingborg has written another gripping novel in the Lu Fei series.  You can read more about the author at this website.

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.

Leave a Reply