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Book Author: Brian Klingborg

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.

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.