The Mao Case
Minotaur, Mar 2009, $24.95
The Beijing leadership is concerned with the sudden appearance of wealth by a seemingly impoverished young artist living well above her means. Normally no one would think twice of Jiao’s affluence, but she is the granddaughter of Xie, a film star who Chairman Mao personally liked; additionally Jiao’s mother died during the Cultural Revolution cleansing. Needing expeditious subtly to determine if the painter is peddling “Mao material” five decades old that could embarrass the Party and China, the brass hand the Top Secret case to Shanghai Police Department's Special Case Chief Inspector Chen Cao; known for his success, speed and especially discretion.
Chen begins with the mother whose life was explored in a bestseller. Using Cloud and Rain as access, Chen goes undercover pretending to be an author conducting research into a historical novel. This enables him to meet Jiao and her friends at the still alive Xie’s run down home. There the older woman hosts a group who cherishes the pre-Communist culture until murder leave Chen suspecting grandmother and or granddaughter as the killer(s) especially their shared convenient alibi.
The sixth Chen Chinese police procedural (see WHEN RED IS BLACK and RED MANDARIN DRESS) contains a strong investigation, but it is the profound look at the early Mao days in comparison to modern day China that brings the uniqueness to the story line. Chen is at his best with his asides about brass, bureaucrats, and bull as he diligently works the “Mao material” inquiry that turns into a homicide; he is more comfortable with the latter as the former is loaded with pompous interference. Mindful of the Bush Administration concealing Korean War Era documents that have been declassified for years and open to the public in the government archives, fans of the Shanghai inspector will enjoy his latest case as a reluctant Chen knows the penalty of dealing with anything Maoist even decades old.