A Loyal Character Dancer
by Qui Xiaolong
4 stars - a wonderful find
How many mysteries are there with author's whose names start with "X" I wondered.
Well, at my local library branch, exactly one, and so I did a blind grab to see what it was about.
A Loyal Character Dancer follows Inspector Chen Cao and U.S. Marshals Services Inspector Catherine Rohn as they travel through Shanghai and other Chinese cities in search of a missing woman. The woman is the wife of a Chinese immigrant who is a witness in a U.S. criminal case. A case that involves human smuggling and powerful Chinese gangs. He is headed for the witness protection program in the U.S. but he refuses to go or to testify until his wife is brought into the country. But his wife has vanished and it is unclear if she ran away, was kidnapped, or, possibly, murdered.
The book is a wonderful journey into Chinese culture, both good and bad. We see people struggling to gain a good life as well as glimpses into the social and political changes currently going on in that country.
The pacing of the book is what charmed me. It is written in a flowing, lyrical style that is difficult to describe. Even through the action scenes, I found just reading this book to be a calming experience. Chen is a thoughtful man who struggles with trying to find a balance between doing the right thing and playing into widespread and accepted corruption, both inside the police force and out. Inspector Rohn, an American fascinated with China, also struggles to accept the different culture as well as do her job without any of the tools that would be at her disposal in the U.S.
Reading the dust jacket, I learned that Mr. Xiaolong, who was born in Shanghai, was nominated for an Edgar award for his first novel (this is his second). I can see why.
As a side note, the previous person to take this book out left the checkout receipt in. I'm always curious to learn what other people are reading. In this case, an interesting group of books; Frommer's Venice Day by Day and The Last Lingua Francia. OK, that's cool. I wouldn't read either of those myself, but I kind of like whoever it was that went before me.