Another winner from Laurence Westwood following on from The Balance of Heaven and Earth and to my mind even more enjoyable. There is greater substance to this novel and the author uses his characters to make some interesting observations about modern day China. The author weaves just the right amount of Chinese history and explanation on a need-to-know basis for those unfamiliar with Chinese history. Similarly with the traditions and customs. One I particularly liked was the way he described ‘guanxi’ which is a very complicated system of reciprocity, but he nails it perfectly with “Simply put, if one did someone a favour, one could, at some time, ask for a favour in return” which is all the lay reader really needs to know.
Our protagonist, Philip Ye, half-Chinese and Half-English, is a charismatic character with a dark side and a lost love from his past that he carries in his heart. Prosecutor Xu Ya, who has carried a torch for Ye from afar since their university days in Wuhan, works alongside him with Constable Ma Meili, an intriguing giantess. As Superintendent (1st Class) in the Homicide Section of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau Ye searches for a missing boy and tries to unravel the mystery of The Willow Woman. All good stuff keeping the reader wondering and entertained. The supporting cast are solid characters with firm backstories that support the main story. As with the author’s previous novel the names are wonderful. ‘Mouse’, the two heavies – Twins ‘Day Na and Night Na’, Tingting’, ‘Fatty Deng’, Big-mouth Wang to name a few. There is a useful cast of characters at the front of the book although I did not need to use it as each character is very much an individual. I would like an apartment in the Tranquil Mountain Pavilions and would definitely enjoy a cocktail in The Singing Moon. Read this fascinating novel and join me.
As a footnote having visited Chengdu and Sichuan and witnessed the “ravages” of the 2008 earthquake I feel able to confirm that this novel is well grounded in the area in which it is set. I am including some images I took in 2011 of the damage which I think illustrate the magnitude of the event not just physcially, but in the psyche of the inhabitants so that the influence of this event has real resonance for the reader of this novel.