Death of a Red Heroine, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Now a BBC Radio 4 Drama Series. Shanghai in 1990. An ancient city in a country that despite the massacre of Tiananmen Square is still in the tight grip of communist control.

Chief Inspector Chen, a poet with a sound instinct for self-preservation, knows the city like few others.

When the body of a prominent Communist Party member is found, Chen is told to keep the party authorities informed about every lead.

Also, he must keep the young woman's murder out of the papers at all costs.

When his investigation leads him to the decadent offspring of high-ranking officials, he finds himself instantly removed from the case and reassigned to another area. Chen has a choice: bend to the party's wishes and sacrifice his morals, or continue his investigation and risk dismissal from his job and from the party. Or worse ...


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480 pages, n/a
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
  • Publication Date:
  • ISBN: 9780340897508

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

The first book featuring Chief Inspector Chen Cao, a poet manqué, and his sidekick Detective Yu of the Shanghai Police Bureau. Set in 1990 as China starts to change from the rigid communism of Mao and become more attuned to economic growth, materialism and openess, it is a wonderfully evocative book which takes the reader into an unfamiliar world where a murder mystery is compounded by internal political clashes.

Review by

To my mind, the very best crime fiction in the world provides a window into the world in which it is set. Be that the psyche of the people, the machinations of the society, how a community is structured and operates, the laws and mores, even the way in which authorities deal with the disorder, how they implement authority. DEATH OF A RED HEROINE is set in Shanghai in 1990, a year after Tiananmen Square, an ancient city with a population tightly controlled by the Communist Party. Poet Chen Cao is an unlikely policeman, forced into the job by the party system, he's caught between a love of poetry and his own innate sense of responsibility. A loner, a romantic soul, he heads a special unit which is given the task of investigating the brutal murder of Guam Hongying. A National Model Worker, the death of Hongying is viewed as much a political situation as it is a crime.DEATH OF A RED HEROINE is a very intricate book, exploring many aspects of the society in which the action takes place. Firstly the character of Inspector Chen Cao, a maverick (as much as you can be under totalitarian control), he's a poet, a loner, a romantic soul forced into the life of a policeman. Enjoying the very small privileges that come with rank, he's also uncomfortable with their existence. He's more fortunate in his friendships - both with long-term friends and with his colleagues. The second aspect of the book that is carefully explored is the victim herself. Her status as a National Model Worker means that her death hits the desks, and the minds of the upper echelons of the Communist Party. Her treatment, in death, as it was in life, is slightly different. The way that her status, and her life was regarded is a particularly interesting aspect of this book, as it leads to the final component of the book worth mentioning - Chinese Society in its own right. Possibly the strongest aspect of the book, because the culture and political system of the society imposes itself over every aspect of it's people's lives. From the way that the investigation is regarded, to the way that Hongying and Chen Coa lead their lives, every move everybody makes is somehow choreographed by the ever present "Party" and its cadres. The parts of the book that don't work quite as well are the plot, and some of the messages that the author is attempting to impart. Second part first - there is some rather heavy-handed repetition of the ills of Communist China. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the messages being delivered, constant repetition doesn't help. The first part - the plot - well got more than a bit hazy at times. Sometimes this was because we'd wandered so far from the central point of the book memory faded, at other points it was simply because plot points sort of got "dumped" into the narrative. Either way, it's not the most complex or unexpected resolution to the death of an attractive young woman.It also isn't on the fast, tense, light read side of the scale. This is a book which will require a bit of concentration, some acceptance that as with many debuts, there's a bit of work going on to establish a character and his place in the world. But as a lead into a new series, this book has ticked yes to a lot of questions. This is undoubtedly a series that I want to catch up with. In a hurry.

Review by
Surprised at the resentment shown by Guan's neighbour, Chen said, "No matter in what position we work, we're all working for socialist China.""Working for socialist China?" her voice rose querulously. "Last month I was laid off from the state-run factory. I need to feed my son; his father died several years ago. So making dumplings all day is what I do now, from seven to seven, if you want to call that working for socialist China. And I have to sell them at the food market at six in the morning.""I'm sorry to hear that Comrade Yuan," he said. "Right now China is in a transitional period, but things will get better.""It's not your fault. Why should you feel sorry? Just spare me a political lecture about it. Comrade Guan Hongying did not want to make friends with us. Period."Guan Hongying, whose given name meant Red Heroine, was a national model worker whose life was held up as an example to all China, but she still ended up dead, wrapped in a garbage bag and dumped in a little-used canal.This is the first in a series of police procedurals set in a rapidly-changing Shanghain in the 1990s. Chief Inspector Chen Cao has been promoted due to his current role due to the patronage of Party Secretary Li, and his colleague Detective Yu is resentful about this, but they knuckle down to investigating the murder, even when a surprising development leads to political ramifications that could threaten both their careers. One thing that comes through clearly in the book is how elderly people, finding it hard to make ends meet on their pensions as inflation soars, are taking part-time jobs to earn extra money. There is Commissar Zhang, whose advice Chen has to listen to although Party Secretary Li tacitly makes it clear that does not need to follow it, an old woman selling ices in the street, for some reason still wearing an ancient Best Socialist Mobile Service Woman* armband, Uncle Bao, who runs the telephone kiosk outside Guan's building and provides the clue that leads to a breakthrough in the stagnating case, and Detective Yu's old father, Old Wang, an ex-policeman who patrols the local market and warns Chen when he is straying into dangerously political waters.A fasinating story due to its setting, but the mystery is not in fact very mysterious at all, and the policemen are not terribly proactive in their investigations.* euphemism for prostitute

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