A Dying Lake and a Dead Man

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong (2012) – Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police is sent to a resort reserved for higher levels cadres in China. The compound is in a town he visited as a child and has changed as much as he has. During his stay, Inspector Chen meets a beautiful young woman connected to a murder at a local chemical factory. A factory that is slowly killing the once beautiful Tai Lake.

Why I Liked It – A mystery with a distinct set of cultural assumptions. The backdrop is fascinating, with perfectly drawn characters.

This is book seven in the Inspector Chen series. It was what was available on the shelf and so I grabbed it. I’ve read none of the others, but Qiu Xiaolong settled me into the Inspector’s world smoothly. Once the immersion was complete, the story caught me up. Chen offers a different approach to his work. As a mid-level career government official, his world is a balance of public/political expectations and unspoken ones. A high-level official has taken notice of him and sends Chen to take care of “small” matters. Such patronage has both advantages (a week at a very sumptuous resort) and challenges. Chen is already something of an outsider and this special attention doesn’t help that.

From the very first, I noticed an interesting parallel with a western detective. Like Chen, Detective Chief Inspector Adam Dalgliesh is a poet. So is Qiu. Modern and classical Chinese poetry are touchstones for Chen and he quotes it regularly. Both detectives are quiet, thoughtful men who solve crimes through dogged determination and careful analysis.

The social structure of modern China is an ongoing challenge to a western reader’s assumptions. Both what we know and what we think we know are challenged as Qiu guides the reader deftly but clearly through the complexities of that society. Tai Lake has a long reputation for the purity of its water and the food taken out of it. Pressures for economic growth put both the reputation and the reality under attack. It doesn’t take much for Chen to find himself caught in the gears of official expectations.

I enjoyed the book, and look forward to joining the Inspector on other mysteries. This is a mystery solved by careful, thoughtful work, so it’s not filled with fights, chases, and gunplay. And yet, I didn’t miss any of that, at all.

Rating – *** Worth A Look


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