About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

March Violets by Philip Kerr

(2. – 844.) March Violets by Philip Kerr – A trio of Bernie Gunther thrillers titled Berlin Noir had been waiting for too long on a shelf in the den next to my desk. It rested there as I had a lingering desire but no urgency to read the book. Going on vacation to Mexico at the beginning of January encourage me to pack Berlin Noir as I would have three books within the covers of one volume.

March Violets is set in Berlin at the time of the 1936 Olympics and brought to mind In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson about William E. Dodd and his family in Berlin at the same time. Dodd was the American ambassador to Germany. It took years of constant contact for the Dodd family to appreciate the cruelty and danger in Nazi Germany that Bernie lived each day.

Bernie drew me in with his sardonic, often crude, never subtle wit. His personality compels him to mock every situation. Such an attitude, while entertaining to the reader, provokes the recepients of his comments. Fortunately, Bernie is big enough and tough enough to deal with the consequences.

Still Bernie is not suicidal. He restrains his tongue while meeting with senior Nazi leaders. He is actually respectful in the presence of Hermann Goering. (When no Nazis are around Bernie refers to him as “Fat Hermann”.)

The Gestapo and SS already dominate life in Germany by 1936. It has been three years since the Nazis took power. Everyone lives and talks carefully for all are at risk of being whisked away to a KZ (concentration camp).

In a police state I wondered what need can there be for a private investigator. Yet there is a real need. Much of Bernie’s time is taken up with searching for missing persons, especially Jewish Germans. As well, the wealthy need determined investigators. Bernie has three virtues his clients prize. He is discreet and confidential and is not an official of the State.

Hermann Six, a Ruhr steel magnate, summons Bernie to his home. He tells Bernie that his daughter, Grete, and her husband, Paul, have been murdered and their home burned. Taken from their safe was a very valuable diamond necklace. Grete’s estate went to Paul. Paul bequeathed his whole estate to the Reich. Six has not reported the necklace stolen because he is appalled by the thought the necklace would go to the German government as part of Paul’s estate. To encourage Bernie, Six will pay a generous 70 marks a day and, if the necklace is recovered, promises Bernie 37,500 marks (5% of its insured value).

The next evening Bernie receives a summons from Ilse Rudel, the sultry movie actress, who is Six’s much younger second wife. She is very interested in Bernie’s investigation. To gain his confidence she invites him into her bed. He but briefly hesitates. After their frolic she is angry and disbelieving when Bernie tells her that she is not the subject of his investigation.

Bernie seeks out jewelers who might be willing to deal with such a special necklace. The quest takes him into the heart of Nazi evil. Jews, desperate to leave Germany, are lined up at jewelers selling their family gems for a fraction of their real value.

Inevitably, the investigation encounters Nazi bureaucracy. There is more to the original robbery than Bernie realized. He receives an invitation to meet with Goering who also wants Bernie’s discretion and confidentiality and unofficial status. There is a distinct tone of menace should Bernie fail Goering.

Abundant violence accompanies Bernie. It is a book with a lot of bodies. Unlike some thrillers the violence does not feel gratuitous. Aggression and death are very much a part of the culture of Nazi Germany.

Noir does not always attract me but I was fascinated by Bernie, the fomer Berlin police officer, functioning in the midst of the Nazi regime. How does a man preserve his integrity in a nation that has abandoned the principle? Compromise is prudent but it is a difficult concept for Bernie. In March Violets his honour is battered. I will see how Bernie fares two years later in the second book, The Pale Criminal, as the Nazis impose ever more strongly their twisted vision on German society.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson and Real Life

In Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson which I reviewed in my last post a flight attendant finds a note in an aircraft bathroom threatening there is a bomb aboard, providing demands and directing the plane to continue on its course pending compliance with the demands. While the air traffic controllers and authorities in Sweden want the plane to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport the pilot refuses stating that he is not prepared to put the passengers at risk by not following the instructions in the note.

As I read of the pilot’s position I thought of what I had read and heard about actual planes and bomb threats. It was my recollection that upon receipt of a bomb threat against a plane it would be diverted to the nearest airport.

Wondering what actually happens in real life I did some searching on the internet.

Under Code 7700 American air traffic controllers are directed:

a.       When information is received from any source that a bomb has been placed on, in, or near an aircraft for the purpose of damaging or destroying such aircraft, notify the supervisor or facility manager. If the threat is general in nature, handle it as a suspicious activity. When the threat is targeted against a specific aircraft and you are in contact with that aircraft, take the following actions as appropriate:

1.      Advise the pilot of the threat.

2.      Report the threat to the Domestic Events Network (DEN) Air Traffic Security Coordinator (ATSC) via (202) 493-4170. If unable to contact the DEN ATSC notify the Transportation Security Administration/Transportation Security Operation Center (TSA/TSOC) directly at 703-563-3400.

3.      Ask if the pilot desires to climb or descend to an altitude that would equalize or reduce the outside air pressure/existing cabin air pressure differential. Obtain and relay an appropriate clearance considering minimum en route altitude (MEA), minimum obstruction clearance altitude (MOCA), minimum reception altitude (MRA), and weather.

NOTE − Equalizing existing cabin air pressure with outside air pressure is a key step which the pilot may wish to take to minimize the damage potential of a bomb.

4.      Handle the aircraft as an emergency, and/or provide the most expeditious handling possible with respect to the safety of other aircraft, weather conditions, ground facilities, and personnel.

NOTE − Emergency handling is discretionary and should be based on the situation. With certain types of threats, plans may call for a low-key action or response.

5.      Obtain and relay clearance to a new destination, if requested.

6.      When a pilot requests technical assistance or if it is apparent that such assistance is needed, do NOT suggest what actions the pilot should take concerning a bomb, but obtain the following information and notify the supervisor who will contact the DEN ATSC or TSA/TSOC as explained in a2 above.

NOTE − This information is needed by TSA explosives experts so that the situation can be assessed and immediate recommendations made to the pilot. The aviation explosives experts may not be familiar with all military aircraft configurations but can offer technical assistance which would be beneficial to the pilot.

§  Type, series, and model of the aircraft.

§  Precise location/description of the bomb device, if known.

§  Other details which may be pertinent.

At the SKYbrary site it indicates controllers should expect a pilot would request landing at the nearest airport.

On how to respond to the situation controllers are advised to follow ASSIST:

Best practice embedded in the ASSIST principle could be followed (A - Acknowledge; S - Separate, S - Silence; I - Inform, S - Support, T - Time):

·         A - acknowledge the bomb warning, ask for intentions and provide information regarding next suitable for landing aerodromes as necessary;

·         S - separate the aircraft and if necessary prioritise it for landing, allow long final if requested, keep the active runway clear of departures, arrivals and vehicles;

·         S - silence the non-urgent calls (as required) and use separate frequency where possible;

·         I - inform the supervisor and other sectors/units concerned; inform the airport emergency fire rescue services and all concerned parties according to local procedures; as tower controller expect airport authorities to execute their bomb threat emergency plan.

·         S - support the flight by providing any information requested and necessary such as type of approach, runway length and any additional aerodrome details, etc.

·         T - provide time for the crew to assess the situation, don’t press with non urgent matters.

After a week in which Canadian airline WestJet received 5 bomb threats and Air Canada 1 bomb threat The Toronto Star published an article on what happens when a bomb threat is received:
      Edward McKeogh, President of Canadian Aviation Safety 
      Consultants, said the basic approach is the same – every threat
      must be taken seriously.
       “As soon as they find out about a threat of this nature, they
       relay it to the flight in question, or sometimes all flights that
       are airborne, and those flights will then divert to the nearest
       suitable airport,” he said.
It is easy to find articles of diversion taking place where a passenger, usually drunk, makes some comment about a bomb threat.
None of the online articles advised if the procedure of diversion changes when the source of the threat on the plane cannot be identified.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson translated by Marlaine Delargy

(1. – 843.) Hostage by Kristina Ohlsson translated by Marlaine Delargy – Fredrika Bergman has returned to Sweden after a year in New York on maternity leave following the birth of her second child. She has not gone back to working for the police but is employed as an analyst for the Department of Justice.

Her former boss at the police, Alex Recht, continues to regret her departure and wishes she were still working with him.

Eden Lundell is the head of the counterterrorism unit of Säpo (the Swedish Secret Service). The tall striking Nordic beauty is wrestling with the issue of Zakaria Khelifi, an Algerian refugee, who has been acquitted of planning to commit an act of terrorism. In the same trial two other men from North Africa had been convicted of plotting a major attack on the Swedish Parliament.

Though acquitted Säpo believes that Khelifi was a collaborator with those convicted and has had contact with other European terrorists. Säpo is recommending to the government that his residency permit be revoked and that he be deported. Säpo’s submissions are accepted and Khelifi is taken into custody.

The next morning an SAS leaves from Stockholm on a flight to New York City. Shortly after departure a shaken flight attendant delivers a note to the pilots found in the toilet for first class passengers.

The note says the plane will be blown up unless the United States government closes Tennyson Cottage and the Swedish government revokes its decision to deport Khelifi. The pilots are to keep flying the plane and not land it until the demands have been met. The governments are given the time provided by the fuel aboard the plane to comply with the demands.

The lead pilot is Karim Sassi and the co-pilot is Erik Recht. Erik is Alex’s son.

Agents and officials in numerous departments and agencies of each government are called on to assess the threat and work on a response.

Sassi refuses to make an emergency landing at the nearest airport fearing for the safety of the passengers if he deviates from the instructions in the note. In the air the main pilot holds the power to decide what is the safest decision for the passengers and crew.

It is swiftly determined that Tennyson Cottage was a secret American detention and interrogation facility in Afghanistan.

Swedish investigators can find no connection between Khelifi and Tennyson Cottage.

American intelligence agencies are reluctant to share any information though there are over 100 Americans on the plane.

Tension gradually builds as the plane sails over the Atlantic.

Frustrations build in Sweden as investigators cannot find a reason why these two apparently separate demands were made of different governments.

Both governments proceed on the basis that the demands will not be honoured. In the world of the 21st Century governments will no longer meet terrorist demands. Innocent lives may be shed but they are not willing to create a precedent for future terrorists to exploit. In any event, in Hostage there is no one with whom the demands can even be discussed.

With no way to determine if there is a bomb on the plane the security and police organizations must reach a decision on how likely it is that an explosive is aboard.

The investigation is focused in Sweden where the flight originated and investigators can seek out information on Khelifi.

As the moment of decision approaches the tension becomes acute.

There are clever twists in the plot. Overall Ohlsson does well at creating a thriller which is a form of locked room mystery. No one can gain access to the plane during flight.

The format is the opposite to the painstaking, often leisurely, investigations of Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte in the mysteries of Arthur Upfield. The whole plot of Hostage takes place over 48 hours.

I come late with this book being my first in the series featuring Bergman. Hostage is the 4th book of the series. In Hostage I found Bergman’s role was under-stated. It was interesting to see the lead character not dominate the book.

I found Hostage a very good thriller. There were some decisions that did not add up to me. On the other hand the ending was a real surprise and would never be in a major American thriller.

Hostage could be a strong movie. Hollywood has made several major movies involving terrorist threats to airplanes but even Hollywood would struggle to make Hostage into a movie for Bruce Willis to extend the Die Hard series.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lawyers and Police Shifting Sides

I have been waiting years for Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller to have a real case together. They have appeared in books together (The Brass Verdict and The Reversal) but there was never a real working relationship. Harry could hardly work closely with a defence lawyer. Mickey was equally wary. There was a natural conflict of interest.

With Harry retired in The Crossing a new relationship is possible. For Mickey it is simple. Harry, the dogged and thorough investigator, can work for him to find the flaws in police investigations which Mickey will then exploit in court to create reasonable doubt.

For Harry it is more complex. Unlike some police officers he was never content to find a plausible suspect, charge the accused, assemble the evidence favourable for prosecution and let the courts sort out whether the accused is guilty. Harry had to determine the truth. He would never conclude an investigation until he was satisfied he had the actual perpetrator. The principle is best illustrated in Harry’s oft stated approach to homicide investigations – “Everybody counts or nobody counts”.

There is a different dynamic in how lawyers and police approach moving to work for the other side.

For lawyers there can be personal conflict in moving from representing accused to being a prosecutor or the reverse. In The Reversal Mickey is appointed a special prosecutor to handle a second trial with regard to Jason Jessup after DNA evidence from a semen stain on the victim’s dress proved to be from her stepfather rather than Jessup. Mickey felt uncomfortable but took on the case.

Beyond some casual comments from other defence lawyers that he had gone over to the dark side there was no reaction from other lawyers.

There is a long tradition in England of barristers both prosecuting and defending criminal cases.

That tradition carried over to Canada. When I was starting out as a young lawyer in 1975 most prosecutions in rural Saskatchewan were conducted by private practice lawyers working as agents for the Provincial Department of Justice. Lawyers routinely prosecuted and defended.

While the vast bulk of the criminal cases I have handled have been as defence counsel I have prosecuted a few cases early in my career.

Though the Province of Saskatchewan has full time prosecutors handle almost all cases within its jurisdiction the Federal Government still uses agents in rural Saskatchewan to conduct drug prosecutions and charges until other federal statutes other than the Criminal Code. There are not enough Federal prosecutions to justify full time prosecutors outside the major cities. One of my Melfort private practice colleagues in a firm down the street is the Federal agent in our area. Another part of his practice involves criminal defence work. No one cares that he is both a prosecutor and a defence counsel.

As indicated above the California bar is no different. Mickey was not ostracized because he prosecuted and defended. He actually ran for District Attorney. When he lost his fellow defence lawyers readily welcomed him back.

However, Harry is far more conflicted. It is not just that he would be expected, if working for the defence, to find weaknesses in prosecution evidence rather than solve crimes. His great and continuing reluctance to work with Mickey is because of the reaction of his fellow brothers and sisters in the Los Angeles Police Department. They will bluntly view him as a traitor to the force. There is no tolerance of a police officer doing defence work. As expected, but for a few close personal friends, Harry is shunned by the LAPD when they learn he is working for Mickey.

There is no comparable police tradition, at least in America, to that of lawyers working for the prosecution and the defence. I speak of America for I know at least one former RCMP officer who will appear as an accident reconstruction expert for the defence in Saskatchewan cases.

The American police attitude is a pity for you gain greater understanding of the criminal justice system from working on both sides. There is a better appreciation of the integrity of each side. Learning how the other side really works as a lawyer I know helps you be a better criminal lawyer no matter whether as prosecutor or defender.

With Harry feeling isolated from the Department in which he spent his working life I wonder if he will work with Mickey again. He swears this case was not the start of a new career. I think he might as well stay working with Mickey for I doubt he could ever regain the esteem of former fellow officers.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best); (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; (2016) - The Crossing;

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

The Crossing by Michael Connelly – Harry Bosch has retired but it has not been a graceful exit into the sunset. A suspension without pay over his actions in The Burning Room pushed him to retire so he could access pension and deferred retirement income. Being Harry he did not accept the shove and, after retiring, hired his half-brother, Mickey Haller, to sue the Police Department over its actions. Only Harry could still be fighting the bureaucracy in retirement.

With Harry retired Mickey immediately asks Harry to work for him on the defence of a former gang member, Da’Quan Foster, who is now an artist and teacher. He has been charged with brutally raping and murdering Lexi Parks, a city manager, whose husband is a Sheriff’s deputy.

The trial is six weeks away and Mickey needs a skilled investigator. His regular investigator, Cisco, has been injured in a motorcycle accident and cannot work with Mickey.

Harry tells Mickey he already has a retirement project – restoring a 1950 Harley motorcycle. While Harry genuinely wants to restore the motorcycle no one believes it is enough to occupy him.

Mickey tells Harry that Foster is innocent. Considering the evidence includes the DNA of the accused (semen found in and on the victim) Harry is skeptical. Through his career he has heard the guilty protesting innocence. Yet Foster is now a well-regarded artist, conducts art programs for children and has a wife and two young children. There is a stirring in Harry that all is not right.

At the same time Harry struggles with the concept of going to work for a defence lawyer. He knows that he will be ostracized by former colleagues if does defence work. As a police officer Harry felt contempt for officers who worked for accused after leaving the force.

With his customary enthusiasm Mickey assures Harry that if he does not believe Foster did not commit the crime he need not continue to work for the defence. It is a shrewd assurance. Harry does not want to work to create reasonable doubt. He will only work a case for the defence to find the real murderer thereby clearing the client.

Mickey arranges for Harry to have access to the murder book of the investigating officers. With his customary thoroughness Harry reviews the book. He is impressed that the officers have done more then assemble the evidence that implicates Foster. They have carefully reviewed facts and individuals around the victim and not found evidence that would suggest a different killer.

Harry is uneasy that the investigators are unable to find a crossing between Foster and Parks. The nature of the murder strongly suggests it was a planned killing. It was not a random act of violence.

Harry explains to Mickey the importance of the crossing:

“Motive and opportunity. They’ve got DNA that puts your man in that house and at that crime scene. But how did he get there? Why did he get there? This woman led a fairly public life. City Hall hearings, council meetings, public events, and so on. According to the records, they looked at hundreds of hours of video and they don’t have one single frame that has both Lexi Parks and Da’Quann Foster in it.”

After poring over the book Harry is led to wonder about a couple of issues. He asks to meet Foster and his interrogation skills provide a lead.

Mickey is not at the interview as he has been arrested on an alleged driving while under the influence charge. It is false but Mickey spends a night in jail and receives considerable media attention on his release. Being Mickey, who lives by the principle that all publicity is good publicity, he walks out the front door and gladly faces the assembled crowd of microphones.

At home Harry is trying to appreciate the final days Maddie will be with him before she graduates from high school. It is a time of gleeful anticipation for Maddie and dread for Harry that all parents who have had children graduate from high school will appreciate. Maddie will soon be in university and Harry can see the emptiness ahead.

In a nice touch of connectedness Maddie will be rooming with Hayley, Mickey’s daughter, at Chapman University in Orange County.

Connelly weaves another excellent murder mystery. My only regret is that he is staying with the approach of one dimensional bad guys. Excellent would become great with at least some complexity to the killers. This reservation does not diminish my love for Connelly’s books. I eagerly await this year’s new book. I hope it will see Harry and Mickey together again. They are a formidable team.
Connelly, Michael – (2000) - Void Moon; (2001) - A Darkness More than Night; (2001) - The Concrete Blonde (Third best fiction of 2001); (2002) - Blood Work (The Best);  (2002) - City of Bones; (2003) - Lost Light; (2004) - The Narrows; (2005) - The Closers (Tied for 3rd best fiction of 2005); (2005) - The Lincoln Lawyer; (2007) - Echo Park; (2007) - The Overlook; (2008) - The Brass Verdict; (2009) – The Scarecrow; (2009) – Nine Dragons; (2011) - The Reversal; (2011) - The Fifth Witness; (2012) - The Drop; (2012) - Black Echo; (2012) - Harry Bosch: The First 20 Years; (2012) - The Black Box; (2014) - The Gods of Guilt; (2014) - The Bloody Flag Move is Sleazy and Unethical; (2015) - The Burning Room; (2015) - Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts; Hardcover

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Poetry of Pollution in Qui Xiaolong's Fiction

I seldom read poetry but I have enjoyed the poems in the Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong. They provide images and rhythms rarely encountered into crime fiction. Beyond Chen and Adam Dagleish in the books of P.D. James I cannot recall having read books with sleuths who were also poets.

In the early books of the Chen series I recall poems associated with relationships or pastoral scenes. I remember grand vistas and potent emotions.

In Don’t Cry, Tai Lake, which I reviewed in my last post, there are quotations from classic Chinese poetry. In a moment of melancholy Chen recalls lines from Su Shi of the Song dynasty:

It is nothing but a dream, / for the past, for the present. / Whoever wakes out of the dream? / There is only a never-ending cycle of old joy, and new grief. / Someday, someone else, / in view of the tower at night, / may sigh deeply for me.

But Chen’s poetry does not live in the past. He provides current imagery in his poetry when he thinks of the lovely Shanshan and their developing relationship and her efforts against fierce opposition to save Tai Lake:

          In a trance of blazing poppies
          or in the cooling shade, deeply covered
          with moss, you have forgotten
the night we spent on the bridge,
beyond them converging
into music on your retina, while
you conducted with your cigarette
a tone poem of the sleepless lake,
when you no longer belonged
to a place, nor a time, nor yourself.
When another white water bird flies
from the calendar, may you dream
no longer of a pale oyster
clinging to the grim limestone.

(Where are you now, as dawn taps
at my window with her rosy fingers,
as the fragrance of coffee and bread
penetrates the wakening mind,
and as the door, like a smile,
welcomes flowers and newspapers?)

His poetry becomes powerful when he turns to contemporary industry. What startled me and stayed with me was Chen’s poetry describing pollution:

The morning comes to the lake
in waves of toxic waste, waves
of poisonous air, surging to smother
the smile in the waking boughs.
she walks in a red jacket
like a bright sail through the dust
under the network of pipes, long
in disrepair, spreading cobweblike,
dripping with contaminated water.
The broken metal-blue fingernails
of the leaves clutching
the barren bank of the lake,
the dead fish afloat, shining
with the mercury bellies trembling,
their glassy eyes still flashing
with the last horror and fascination
Soon, the spring is departing again.
How much more of wind and rain
can it really endure? Only the cobweb
still cares, trying to catch
a touch of fading memory.
Why is the door always covered
in the dust of doubts?
The lake cries, staring
at the silent splendid sun.

I should not have been surprised as I was at the power of modern images.

The only book of poetry I have reviewed on this blog is Anthem for Doomed Youth, an anthology of World War I poetry, by participants in the Great War. I found those poems powerful and moving. Several describe the modern mechanical efficiency of killing.

John Hobson closes his poem The Machine Gun:

Here do I lie,
                 Hidden by grass and flowers,
            With my machine-gun,
           Ghost of modern war.
           The sun floats high,
        The moon through deep blue hours,
I watch with my machine-gun
At Death’s grim door.

There is insight into modern life through poems that is beyond what prose can tell us.
Xiaolong, Qiu – (2009) - Death of a Red Heroine (Second best of 2009 fiction); (2011) - "X" is for Qui Xiaolong; (2011) - A Case for Two Cities; (2012) - "X" is for Qiu Xiaolong Again; (2012) - A Loyal Character Dancer; (2013) - Red Mandarin Dress and Reflections on red Mandarin dresses; (2015) - The Mao Case;  (2016) - Don't Cry, Tai Lake

Friday, January 15, 2016

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake by Qiu Xiaolong – Chief Inspector Chen Cao has been made an offer he cannot refuse. A mentor, Comrade Secretary Zhao, a high cadre invites Chen to take a week vacation at the Wuxi Cadre Recreation Center about an hour from Shanghai. Zhao had been scheduled for the vacation but says he is too busy. Zhao vaguely suggests Chen keep his eyes open and prepare a report on his observations of the arear around Wuxi.

At the Center Chen is shown to a beautiful nine room villa normally occupied by the highest cadres. It is a measure of Zhao’s continuing status within the Party though he is officially retired.

While ill at ease with his opulent accommodations Chen does his best to relax at the combination “resort and sanatorium”. It is located on the edge of beautiful Tai Lake. Chen had enjoyed a visit to the lake as a child. It was famed for its clear water.

Shortly after arrival Chen stops at a small eatery in Wuxi for a late lunch. While there he meets the lovely Shanshan, an environmental engineer at the Wuxi No. 1 Chemical Company. Chen is attracted by her beauty and entranced that she loves poetry and can quote from her favourite poems.
During their discussion he learns the lovely looking lake is heavily polluted by untreated waste being dumped into the lake by the factories on its shores. Significant sections of the shimmering lake are covered with green algae. Ten times the amount of industrial sewage is now put into the lake than was deposited before China’s industrial boom

Her company is the No. 1 culprit. While there are environmental regulations enforcement is lax and corrupt.

Shanshan is unpopular with Comrade Liu, the general manager of her factory. He has been well rewarded for steadily increasing production and strong profits. He espouses the maxim of Party leader Deng:

            “Development is the one and only truth.”

Chen does not disclose his status as a high ranking police officer. He lets Shanshan think he may be a teacher, albeit one with real connections reflected in him staying at the Center.

The next day he goes again to the little restaurant hoping to see Shanshan again for she leaves her lunch there each day with her “Uncle”, family friend. When Shanshan arrives she is distraught for Comrade Liu was murdered the previous night in his “home office”.

Because of his position Liu had been authorized a three bedroom apartment near the factory so that he has a place to go if he does not want to go to his large home in Wuxi.

Insatiably curious Chen calls Sgt. Huang of the local police. Chen’s trusted subordinate, Yu, had recommended he call Huang while in Wuxi.

The young Huang is star struck at being called by and then meeting the famous Chief Inspector Chen. He has read the mysteries translated by Chen. Huang has devoured reports of Chen’s major cases. He thinks of Chen as a modern Sherlock Holmes. When Chen asks to learn about the murder Huang is thrilled to have the chance to learn from Chen. He has no problem keeping Chen’s identity concealed as requested by Chen.

The leading suspect is Jiang, an environmental activist, who was well known for his challenges to the environmental practices of Wuxi industry. It is a convenient political solution to have the murderer such a troublemaker. The dreaded Internal Security is swiftly building the case.

Chen, when Internal Security also turns its attention to Shanshan, becomes a participant in the investigation rather than just an observer though he resolutely stays in the background.

The investigation takes Chen into the depths of pollution issues in modern China and the vast sums at stake when a state owned company becomes a public company.

Don’t Cry, Tai Lake is the most overtly concerned with a social issue of the Chen mysteries I have read. It remains a good mystery. While not my favourite in the series I gained insight into yet another facet of modern Chinese life. What was most striking in the book were the elements of poetry that involved industry and pollution.
Xiaolong, Qiu – (2009) - Death of a Red Heroine (Second best of 2009 fiction); (2011) - "X" is for Qui Xiaolong; (2011) - A Case for Two Cities; (2012) - "X" is for Qiu Xiaolong Again; (2012) - A Loyal Character Dancer; (2013) - Red Mandarin Dress and Reflections on red Mandarin dresses; (2015) - The Mao Case