Review of Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong

death-of-a-red-heroineI picked up a used copy of Qiu Xiaolong‘s Death of a Red Heroine at Goodwill. You really can’t beat $0.70 for a book!

After buying it, I gave it a wipe down (as I do anything I buy at Goodwill) and stuck it on the shelf to read someday. When I finally picked it up and opened it to the first page for the first time I found a surprise. It’s signed! I had a bit of a squee moment, I’ll admit it.

It's signedDescription form Goodreads:
Shanghai in 1990. An ancient city in a country that despite the massacre of Tiananmen Square is still in the tight grip of communist control. Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others. When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead. Also, he must keep the young woman’s murder out of the papers at all costs.

When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area. Chen has a choice: bend to the party’s wishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismissal from his job and from the party. Or worse.

On finishing this book, I closed it feeling satisfied. This is generally all I ask of a book, but if I think back, I also remember that it took a good 200 pages for this book to get rolling and for me to really become interested and vested in it.

Part of this is probably do to the fact that I only have a loose understanding of the events surrounding the Cultural Revolution and the subsequent Party politics that play an important part in this book. But it also just has a slow start, which isn’t helped a lot by the rather dry tone Chinese literature always seems to have.

In the end, however, what I liked so much about the book is that it’s about good men trying, against almost impossible odds, to be good men. I don’t mean John McClane type heros, but ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.

Chen, the main character is a coming to terms with the fact that his life has not turned out the way he hoped. He shows a consistent moral mettle that is impossible not to respect. His partner, Yu, is a man who was given very few choices in life but his dedication to both his job, doing the right thing and his wife are heart melting. It was these men and their character that carried the day for me. I’m glad to have read the book.

Though not relevant to the review, I’m also going to admit to a long standing mistake on my part. I’ve always thought the name of this book was Death of a Red Heron and that this is perhaps where the literary device took it’s name. I even continued to read the title as I expected it to be, rather than as printed, long after buying the book. So, when I opened it to the first page and finally really read it and discovered it reads Death of a Red Heroine I had a good long laugh at myself. Feel free to laugh at me too.

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