The Inspector Chen Series
What is it?
The Inspector Chen books are a series of detective novels by Chinese poet and writer Qiu Xiaolong. The eight-book series follows Chief Inspector Chen Cao, a police detective, as he solves murders in present-day Shanghai.
Who is it for?
Anyone who loves detective novels as much as I do!
Why do we love it?
One unique thing about this series is the amount of Chinese that Qiu includes. He somehow manages to weave Mandarin words into English, explaining what the words mean but without them sticking out or breaking up the sentences. I always end up learning a few new words when I read these books, especially food-related ones. Chen loves to eat, and the books often use vivid descriptions of food to build metaphors for what’s happening in the story.
There might be others out there, but this is the only detective series I know of that is set in China and written in English by a Chinese writer. Of course you don’t have to be from China to write about China, but I feel that Qiu’s writing reflects China with no exoticizing or othering, which I often find happens with other mysteries set in China (particularly the ones where a detective from the west travels to China). Qiu also includes quite a bit of commentary on life in China; the last Chen book I read, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake, deals with the question of pollution. I think these books would make excellent supplementary reading in any Chinese culture or language class—in fact, I just got a sudden urge to make a Chen-based lesson plan.
Qiu is a poet, and so is Inspector Chen. While we watch him solve murders, we also get to read Chen’s poems and hear him recite ancient Chinese poetry. Poetic mysteries—what more could you want?