“Thief of Souls” opens on Saturday, and a quote from Chairman Mao Zedong sets the tone as each new day begins. Readers learn everything they need to know in the first sentence.
“On the night the young woman’s corpse is discovered, hollowed out like a birch bark canoe, Inspector Lu Fei sits alone in the Red Lotus bar, determined to get gloriously drunk.”
The grammar and present tense construction create a sense of immediate action, of conscious time, of being in the moment evolving along with the plot. The week and a half that follows are filled with a slow deliberate investigation, increasing in intensity till the frantic dramatic end.
It is exceedingly cold in Heilongjiang in January. Chinese citizens regard The Public Security Bureau, the institution of law enforcement in the People’s Republic, as equivalent to a pit of quicksand. However, solving crimes and catching criminals is part of the job, and there has been a murder. This death has very unusual aspects that point to something very sinister, more than just any “ordinary” murder. Her heart is missing.
The investigation is organized and methodical with a mixture of traditional procedures and modern technology. As one might expect, there is also some degree of politics involved. However, the rules of investigation are different in China. There is no right to remain silent and a lawyer is not required to present during police questioning. As a result, threats (such as going down to the station to let the sergeant here pry off a few toenails) are used to encourage the “sharing “of information.
“Thief of Souls” is compelling and surprising; it provides an insight into the rapidly evolving modern Chinese society. The strategies, people, and atmosphere are all unique; however, the goal is the same as in any crime fiction– solve the terrible crime. I received a review copy of “Thief of Souls” from Brian Klingborg, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur books. This has everything a reader expects in a great mystery – unexplained murders, complex situations, a dedicated investigator, a little light hearted humor, and a surprise ending. As a bonus, it is set in an uncommon location. It is listed as book one in a series, so I cannot wait to find out what adventures await Inspector Lu Fei in the next books.