Chen Cao, the poetry-writing Shanghai police inspector in Qiu Xiaolong’s unique series, wants to do moral good in his public-service job, but his work is always subject to political correction ... Here, in flashbacks, is the heart of the book: Chen’s memories of previous puzzles (the longest of which involves the death of a well-to-do citizen) and the reader’s realization of how much humane justice Chen has insured throughout decades of political change ... Becoming Inspector Chen ends on an ambiguous note, in keeping with the detective’s tightrope-walk of a career, but there’s nothing uncertain about the Confucian resolve with which he confronts his duties.
The Inspector Chen series follows the chief inspector of the Shanghai Police Bureau, who has a degree in English literature and is a published poet, as he navigates the perilous waters of conducting investigations without running afoul of party leaders. In this, the eleventh in the series, Chen fears he is soon to be dismissed from his post. A bizarre element of this mystery is that there is no actual investigation ... The latest Chen is both a scathing indictment of contemporary China and an explanation of how poet Chen came to be Chief Inspector Chen. Gripping, but best for longtime readers of the series.
While series fans will be delighted at the background Qiu provides, this is an accessible starting point for newcomers interested in a dogged, honest cop who must battle his own government to do his job.
The title of Inspector Chen’s 11th case has a sly double meaning, introducing both a deep dive into the literary detective’s early life and an unexpected professional resurgence late in his career ... Series fans will be rewarded by another elegant mix of recent history and literary embellishments and a richer Chen backstory, though newcomers may be impatient ... Qiu’s stylish hybrid is half fictional literary memoir and half crisp whodunit.