I NEVER READ thrillers unless they're by Conan Doyle or, nowadays, by Qiu Xiaolong. A Chinese living in America and writing in agreeably quaint English, Qui has created two riveting Shanghai cops, Chief Inspector Chen Cao and his assistant, Detective Yu Guangmng. Chen is not quite as clever as Sherlock Holmes, but Yu is much less toadying than Watson. They have already appeared in Qiu's two earlier, very good books, Death of a Red Heroine and A Loyal Character Dancer. Just as Sherlock Holmes familiarised us with the London underworld, Chen and Yu take us about the seedier parts of Shanghai and inside the hangouts of the vulgar newly rich, while the two policemen endure the political pressure and corruption hovering around Chinese life.
Qiu's murders and their settings, unusual if you live in the West, would be wholly familiar to any urban Chinese. In his latest novel, Yin Lige, a woman who lives barely acknowledged in a crowded Shanghai tenement, is found smothered to death. She turns out to have been first a