This book is the 7th in the wonderful Inspector Chen series, and is quite different from the previous books in that most of the action takes place away from Shanghai, a city which is otherwise an integral part of the whole wonderful persona of the charming, honest, poetry loving, slightly unworldly Chief Inspector.
What is par for the course though, is that even though Chen is on holiday, he inevitably gets entangled in a murder investigation. The Chief Inspector is steadily (& almost against his inclination) rising in the esteem of senior Party members, and it is thanks to one of them that he gets to holiday in the luxurious centre reserved for top cadres. Villas and huge private gardens and top medical facilities, good food, great service, all is there, for the privileged few at the top of the Party hierarchy, but Chen, as diffident and low key as ever, feels slightly ill at ease being accorded such treatment and so goes wandering incognito in the streets of Wuxi as much as he can. He sits and listens and eats and drinks at simple restaurants, and makes two important discoveries.
One, that the famed Wuxi Lake is so polluted that it is having a terrible effect on the people who live in the city. They are getting sick, the pollution stinks, the fish are toxic. But the industrial plants surrounding the lake continue to pour in their waste and effluent unchecked and uncontrolled, all in the name of progress. Outrage at pollution and environmental norms count for little.
The second discovery the good Chief Inspector makes is that the pretty Shanshan, an environmental activist he chances upon in a tiny eatery, may just be the love of his life. I won’t spoil the plot by telling you whether this vivacious and courageous young girl is or is not The One.
The overriding theme of this book is the unbridled pollution of China’s natural resources, with any flicker of concern about environmental degradation being sacrificed at the altar of China’s prosperity.
Since Chen is not in Shanghai, we do not meet the usual cast of characters – his mother and Old Hunter for example – but he does call upon the devoted Yu and his wife Peiqin to check out one thing for him back in Shanghai, so we are not totally deprived of the sights and sounds of this great city. In fact, the chapters in which Yu and his wife sacrifice their entire weekend, tying down some loose ends for Chen, take us straight back into the crowded bustling world of Shanghai, and these pages have a vibrancy that some of the Wuxi scene setting lacks.
I guess Wuxi simply isn’t Shanghai.
I am a huge fan of the lovely Chief Inspector, who quotes poetry at the drop of a hat, often in the middle of murder investigations.
Smashing read, as ever.