Sunday, 4 August 2013

Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong

When a young woman dressed in red mandarin dress is found murdered in a busy traffic place in Shanghai, Inspector Chen should not only investigate the woman but also research about the red Mandarin dress as he believes that the dress is the clue to the murder. Red Mandarin Dress had been a symbol of elegance before the Cultural Revolution, during the cultural revolution it became the symbol of something to be despised, and disappeared from fashion, later it became fashionable again. But the Mandarin Dress of modern day is more sexy than the elegant one rich women wore before the revolution. The woman found murdered was not wearing a Mandarin Dress that could be bought off the shelf from a shop but one that was made to order in a rather older style. Inspector Chen needs to find the mystery of this Red Mandarin Dress soon because one more woman dressed in Red Mandarin Dress is murdered. The serial killer stalking Shanghai is killing women and dressing them in a modest Red Mandarin Dress but exposing them immodestly creating contradictions. Why is the killer doing that? Does Freud's theory apply to China?

Fortunately Inspector Chen is also working on his literature paper and decides to look into romantic stories in Chinese literature. And he comes up with his own theory backed by Chinese literature on the contradictions created by the killer.

In 'When Red is Black', the earlier novel I read in this series, Qui Xiaolong feature the Singing girls, one of the three accompanying girls. This novels takes us to gourmet restaurants with the 'eating girls'. Girls who escort rich men to restaurant help them choose exquisite menus and provide them with intelligent and enjoyable conversation and company and may be something more later. We get an inside view from a senior escort, on why she became an eating girl.
Like in the earlier novel the author takes us again into the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath and also the changing dynamics of China moving from Communism to Capitalism and issues of corruption.

It is also interesting how Inspector Chen, his partner Yu, and even Yu's wife contribute to the investigation. But spotting the killer as soon as he is introduced is rather frustrating. After all it is touted as a mystery and when the culprit is so obvious it takes the joy out of reading a mystery. Even though the mystery part was disappointing, I did enjoy the book, the author has created a complex story to incorporate the history of China and various aspects like culture, literature, fashion, the changing economics, poetry, gourmet food, so-called delicacies that could be down right cruel and philosophy as touted by Confucius. Bringing all this together in an engaging style is no easy deed, wish the mystery was breathtaking too.

Below is a quote to give you an idea of the imagery the writer creates.

One brought in a laptop and started playing a game, her fingers pecking and chirping like noisy sparrows on a spring morning.


The cover shows a girl wearing a red mandarin dress, but it is not clear, so doesn't serve the purpose.

This is my post for Crime Fiction Alphabet R.


Margot Kinberg said...

I always like it when sleuths get the chance to look into history or literature or another field like that when they are solving cases. As this author is a poet it makes sense his sleuth would do that. Thanks for the fine review.

srivalli said...

It is interesting how the author links the case with Chinese literature and comes up with his own theory for the killings. Normally it wouldn't be possible to give the readers a glimpse into literature in a crime novel. The author does it really well. Thanks Margot for stopping by!

TracyK said...

I am looking forward to reading this series. With so much reading already planned for this year, I may not get to the first book in the series until 2014. This reviews convinces me that they will be enjoyable.

srivalli said...

Hope you enjoy the books too, when you get around to reading them. Thanks Tracy for stopping by!

Katy McCoy said...

I can't believe that you would use an author with a last name that starts with Q and a first name starting with X (I may have those reversed) to meet the "R" book in an alphabetical challenge!

srivalli said...

Hi Katy, I am using the authors name for another challenge, for this one I have read Xo for x and Queenpin for Q. So I am good. Thanks Katy for stopping by!

gautami tripathy said...

I have this on my TBR pile! I am just so slow in my reading!!!

Here is my CFA--R post!