Friday, April 17, 2009

Paper Butterfly-Diane Wei Liang

Paper Butterfly
Diane Wei Liang
Simon & Schuster, May 2009, $24.00
ISBN: ISBN: 1416549579

No longer working for the Ministry of Public Security, Wang Mei knows from experience how slippery a slope she walks as an "information consultant"; private investigators are prohibited in China. Guanghua Record Company CEO Peng Datong hires Mei as a “consultant” researching the disappearance of his pop superstar Kaili. She vanished following a highly regarded performance at Beijing’s Capital Gymnasium.

Mei finds Kaili's dressing table filled with cigarettes and pills, but it is the letters and a PAPER BUTTERFLY the sleuth finds that interest her. Apparently, Kaili has a long distant sweetheart. As the migrants leave Beijing to work in the provinces, Mei follows Kaili to Dashanzi where the workers live in abandoned factories while in the city. Meanwhile pressure rises on Mei to drop her investigation with only Police Detective Zhao helping her. At the same time, Mei feels guilty when a former student Lin returns to Beijing after her release from remote East Wind Lao Gai Camp where he was educated and purged of his inflammatory role at the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

Though readers will know instantly which side of the Tiananmen Square human rights debate that Diane Wei Liang is on, fans will enjoy this modern day China private investigative thriller. Fascinatingly Wang being an information consultant is mindful of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins who also could not be a professional sleuth in 1960s Los Angeles; adding depth to her fall from grace is her former peers and her family scorns her for quitting her prestigious job to go capitalist. The story line focuses intensely on China for instance the drop in acceptance of migratory workers to second class with the professionals like Datong taking over the city. The story line is somewhat leisurely flowed as the emphasis is on the culture and human rights.

Harriet Klausner