When Red Is Black is the third novel by Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong featuring Inspector Chen Cao, although Chen plays only a supporting role this time. The true stars of this book are Chen's assistant Yu Guangming and his wife Peiquin. Drawing from Chen's command of English, Yu's dogged determination and Peiquin's literary expertise, they tackle the murder of a blacklisted author. The political ramifications may be far-reaching, and the case must be handled with kid gloves, if indeed kid gloves are available in China. Qiu uses minor characters to flesh out descriptions of modern-day China, a country largely unknown to most people in the West. Tidbits of Chinese history pepper the text, and give the reader insight into the day-to-day workings of the Middle Kingdom. In recounting the flashback tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers during the Cultural Revolution, Qiu employs snippets of romantic poetry, evocative of haiku but for the meter: We calculate with our fingers When the west wind will come Unaware of time flowing away Like a river in the dark It helps to make a cheat sheet to keep up with the Chinese names, but When Red Is Black is eminently worth the effort. (Incidentally, Qiu Xiaolong is pronounced "chew shao long.")

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