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THE MURDER OF MR. MA by John Shen Yen Nee and S. J. Rozan: Book Review

The Murder of Mr. Ma is an enchanting, magical trip (in more ways than one) that takes readers to London in 1924, as seen through the eyes of a young Chinese professor, Lao She.

As the novel opens, Lao is summoned to the home of the Honorable Bertrand Russell and through him meets the famous Judge Dee Ren Jie.  During the Great War, Dee was brought to France to settle the differences between the British army and the Chinese Labour Corps, men who had been brought from China to work as non-military personnel, thus freeing British soldiers for battle.

Although the Chinese men were not allowed to live in England after the war, four of them somehow were brought to the country under the auspices of Inspector William Bard, now a member of the Metropolitan Police and formerly a captain with the British forces in France.

Then all the other Chinese laborers were returned home, even though some wished to remain in England.  Some did stay, secretly, and the murder of one of these men is what has brought Dee to England and into the path, once again, of Inspector Bard, a man who harbors a grudge against the judge for his work in France.

When Dee and Lao start their inquiry into the fatal stabbing of Ma Ze Ren, one of the men in the Labour Corps, they hear some things that don’t quite add up.  His widow, a Caucasian woman, tells them that the shop Ma owned wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped even though he spent all day there, and thus she decided to sell all the merchandise and return to her home in Norfolk.

However, when Dee and Lao talk to the shop’s assistant, they learn that the shop had been making a profit, that Ma spent very little time in the store and, in his opinion, the widow could have gotten a better offer for the goods if she hadn’t accepted the first one she received.

That offer was made by Colonel Livingstone Moore, so Lao and Dee go to the colonel’s home to see his purchase.  Although Moore fancies himself as a man knowledgeable about Chinese art and antiques, it’s obvious to the two men that he’s not knowledgeable at all.  Moore says that he bought the contents of the shop from Ma’s widow as a kindness, but the two Chinese men are disbelieving.

Then a second Chinese man, also from the Labour Corps, is killed by the same Chinese sword as Ma.  Then a third.

Readers may be familiar with the fictional character of Judge Dee, a 7th-century jurist.   He, in turn, was based on the real-life Di Renje, a diplomat and detective, in a brilliant series by Robert Van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and Orientalist.  Lao She, a name unfamiliar to me, was a 20th-century Chinese novelist and dramatist.

The collaboration of John Shen Yen Nee and S. J. Rozan is a brilliant one.  The Murder of Mr. Ma is Mr. Nee’s first foray into detective fiction, although he was a senior vice president of  D. C. and publisher of Marvel Comics.  Ms. Rozan is the author of 16 novels featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith in New York City, and she is the recipient of two Edgar Awards and two Anthony awards, among many other honors.

You can read more about them at this site.

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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