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When Red is Black
By Qiu Xiaolong

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When Red is Black

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When Red is Black
By Qiu Xiaolong
Wheeler Publishing - Large Print Edition (2006)
ISBN: 1-59722-174-0
Genre: Mystery

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - March 14, 2006

When Red is Black is the third installment in Qiu Xiaolong's exciting Inspector Chen mystery series. Set in modern day China, this story follows Chief Inspector Chen Cao and Detective Yu Guangming of the Shanghai Police Bureau as they investigate the murder of Yin Lige. A former member of the Red Guard, Lige is a novelist whose book, Death of a Chinese Professor so well represented the Cultural Revolution that she upset members of the ruling Communist party and was labeled as a dissident. Her murder, in many ways, solved many problems, except for Chen, who must not only solve her murder, but do so without stepping on any political toes.

While Chen is the lead investigator, it is Yu who does the brunt of the work in this investigation, as Chen is busy doing some side work as a translator. This allows the reader to become better acquainted with Yu, who was not so well-fleshed out in Death of a Red Heroine and A Loyal Character Dancer, the first two books in this series. (If you've not read these first two books, don't worry, When Red is Black can be easily followed without having read the previous volumes.)

When Red is Black is a complex novel that is part police procedural and part social commentary. The book provides an insightful glimpse into life in modern day Shanghai and the social and political influences that shape daily life. Both Chen and Yu are rich, detailed characters, and the story is infused with cultural elements that serve as both ingredients for the plot and as background color. The mystery surrounding Lige's death is gripping, but the true power of this book is found in its juxtaposition of historical Chinese cultural practices with the realities of modern day politics and how the average citizen treads carefully between the two. The social commentary in When Red is Black, combined with the surprising plot twists, multiple suspects, and intriguing characters serves to make this an enjoyable and riveting read.

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