Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A Case of Two Cities with Inspector Chen: Qiu Xiaolong

When my sister Sparkle recommends a book, I have learned to listen. I think I ordered this book about six months ago, but never cared enough to actually read it. After reading a recent Donna Leon (like dessert, I use it as a reward for reading something more challenging) I decided it was time to tackle Qiu Xiaolong.

I believe A Case of Two Cities is the first in the series; I tried very hard to make sure it was. When I first started reading it, it was difficult, but it didn’t take long to adjust. When you read a detective story written in a foreign culture, you have to park your old way of thinking, and quickly adapt to a new way of thinking. First, you have to learn what that new way of thinking is. They don’t just tell you at the beginning of the book “Here are the differences in values – you will notice . . .” no, but Qiu Xiaolong is courteous enough to take us by the hand and lead us gently into the Chinese way of thinking, the Chinese way of getting things done, and the technicalities of Chinese detective work.

As we meet Inspector Chen, a published poet, and a detective, ten pages into the book, a new anti-corruption campaign is starting in Shanghai, and Inspector Chen has been given a special assignment – a qinchai dacheng – as “Emperor’s Special Envoy with an Imperial Sword.” Even though imperial days are long gone, this warrant gives him emergency powers to search and arrest without reporting to anyone – and without a warrant. He is to seek and find Xing, a corrupt businessman who has caused huge loss to the national economy and is in danger of tarnishing the Chinese national image, and Xing’s associates.

Just as in the Donna Leon books about Commissario Guido Brunetti, and the Bowen books about Gabriel duPre, and James Lee Burke’s books about New Orleans, and Cara Black’s books about Aimee LeDuc, the detectives and investigators have to walk a fine line between going after the criminal and overstepping their warrant – stepping on the toes of those also engaged in corruption so entrenched that it has become a way of life. Each of these detectives has to maneuver that treacherously fine line – who determines when corruption has become too much? It usually puts their own lives in danger at some point, as those manipulating the system and making a fortune out of it do not want to be caught, do not want to be exposed, and will go to great lengths to protect their ill-gotten gains.

And just as in the above books, the book is more about the actual process than the crime itself. Inspector Chen must go about his task indirectly, having chats here and there, gathering threads of information with which he tries to weave a plausible tapestry of events.

As I was reading A Case of Two Cities, I kept making AdventureMan take me out for Chinese food! The meetings are often held over food, and the descriptions are mouth-watering.


Best of all, when you read these books, you get a tiny little glimpse into another way of thinking, another way of doing business. We are all human, we all have the same needs, and we differ in how we go about getting those needs met. We differ in the way we think. It helps to enter another way of living, another way of thinking, it helps to visit through these books so that we can increase our own understanding that our way of doing things is not the only way, maybe (gasp!) not even the “right” way! Maybe (crunching those brain cells really hard to output this thought) there is more than one “right” way?

March 15, 2008 - Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cooking, Crime, Cross Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Language, Leadership, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Political Issues, Relationships, Shopping, Social Issues, Travel, Women's Issues |


  1. globalism and tolerance,in an idealist’s head, sounds just about right.

    Comment by Mrm | March 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. Oh Mrm, I can hear the wheels turning as your brain goes into overdrive. So how does it sound in a cynic’s head?

    And when are you going to seriously start writing?

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 16, 2008 | Reply

  3. I’m now very curious about Inspector Chen and I must look into this book. I’ve just started a translated, Chinese novel by Gao Xingjian – 2000 Nobel prize for literature winner – called Soul Mountain. It’s a tough read but it always through literature that I gain incredible insights into my adopted country, and other homelands I have loved.

    And thanks for the Gulf Royal pics! I’ve had so many happy meals in that restaurant!

    Comment by Global Gal | March 17, 2008 | Reply

  4. There are many, Global Gal, and they all look a lot alike! There is one in Hawalli, one in an old mall called City Center, and several quick-Gulf-Royals in food court malls, and at the airport, and there is one in Fehaheel.

    Thanks for the good recommendation, Soul Mountain.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 17, 2008 | Reply

  5. Glad you liked it, sis. I think there are actually 3 preceding: Death of a Red Heroine (2001), A Loyal Character Dance (2002), and When Red is Black (2006). Dates may be approx. Don’t worry – its OK to go back and read them out of order! -Sparkle

    Comment by Sparkle | March 17, 2008 | Reply

  6. Thanks, Sparkle. I’ll have to find them.

    Comment by intlxpatr | March 17, 2008 | Reply

  7. […] and I read a lot, and there is a standing joke between us – there are times, like reading a detective novel set in China, when one of us just gets a craving for Chinese food. Or it could be reading James Lee Burke and we […]

    Pingback by Do You Have Reservations? « Here There and Everywhere | January 7, 2009 | Reply

  8. Was anyone else bothered by the frequent lapses in grammar…. so many that they must have been deliberately left by an editor. They definitely interrupted the reading experience.

    Comment by Mary null Hughes | July 12, 2010 | Reply

  9. I noticed them, but they didn’t bother me. It’s just a different way of thinking and sometimes the grammar errors just give it a different nuance in my mind.

    Comment by intlxpatr | July 13, 2010 | Reply

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