After running short of May’s novels on the Hebrides, I was kind of reluctant to tackle his China thrillers. The Hebrides had infused my mind with their ragged beauty.
But! … as usual, I wanted to know more, to have a grasp at a new topic for me. His 6 books take place in that far away and mostly unknown part of the world, as far as I am concerned anyway.
It seems May has done a pretty good job with his writings as “he is the only westerner to be made an honorary member of the Chinese Crime Writers’ Association”. Click on this link, giving you access to info on Peter May’s Chinese thrillers.
So? I got myself the Fire Maker, book 1 in his Chinese series.
The plot is set in Beijing, the bustling and overpopulated capital of China. As you read along, May manages to make you feel the atmosphere of the place. You can imagine yourself trapped in huge traffic jams among bicycles, cars, lorries, pedestrians. Not talking about the permanent haze of pollution hovering over the city, the back streets and the new Forbidden City of contemporary Beijing inhabited by the influential and powerful Nouveaux Riches.
2 main characters: Li Yan, a 33 year-old Chinese detective who has just been promoted , described at first as a rough ugly man, and an American lady forensic pathologist escaping a devastated life in Chicago but whose expertise is proven in dissecting burned down corpses.
Both of them have to solve a crime dealing with terrifying experiments in genetics, producing a super trend of rice, which could lead to poison half of the population on earth, if not more!
They have to cope with a very pyramidal hierarchy protecting big Chinese shots, corruption, collusion between scientists and agro-business. Scary because not so far from reality. Nightmarish prospect!
While reading that book, you also get more acquainted with the one child Chinese policy, throughout a secondary character which happens to be the main detective’s sister. That policy implies a lot of suffering, pression on Chinese women, especially if their only child is a girl, not worth a boy.
The dreadful cultural revolution killing 1,5 million people and millions of others being imprisoned, tortured, humiliated and destituted is also hinted at when another secondary character has turned from university lecturer into a street vendor. ” Young people came from all over China to Beijing to become Red Guards and parade in front of Mao in Tianamen Square … they were just children with all discipline removed. They went crazy. They attacked people just because they were “intellectuals”. They could come into your house and take over your home… or they would force you through “struggle sessions” or maybe just beat you up for fun. Many people were put in prisons or sent to labour camps. Others were killed -just murdered… All the worst and most basic instances of human nature were given free rein.”
History in the flesh, I am very sensitive to.
I loved that book despite one restriction: its end, leaving the reader unsatisfied about the fate of the 2 main protagonists who started a close ( to say the least) relationship, dumping them in the middle of nowhere after the killing of 2 baddies 😦 Just as if Barbara Cartland didn’t end up her mushy stories. But knowing how May operates, the reader will have to go ahead reading his second thriller in his Chinese series to have an answer and so on 😉 What a real literary businessman this Peter May is 😉 This time it isn’t a trilogy but a hexalogy !!! 😉 Let’s see if there won’t be too many repetitions!