A glimpse at the devastating Chinese cultural revolution viewed through the magnifying glass of a thriller by Peter May.

Title of the book: The Fourth Sacrifice ( French title: Le Quatrième Sacrifice)


Book II in Peter May’s China series. 

Set in Beijing once again with the two same main protagonists: Li Yan, Chinese inspector, and Margaret Campbell, the American forensic pathologist.

Who decapitated 3 out of 6 of the group of violent Red Guards who called themselves “the Revolt-to-the End brigade’, 30 years later?

A few examples of  the Red Guards’exactions:

In Education:

They were “stupid, brutish boys, manipulated by much cleverer people much higher up”  ” Most of them were unemployed and simply used the Cultural Revolution as an excuse not to work … They went through school reports, destroying any evidence of their poor exam results … In their eyes we ( teachers) were responsible for all their failures, not them… They made us wear dunce hats and parade in the square … with signs around our necks … they made us beat gongs and shout, ‘I am a  reactionary monster’. And they would kick us and whip us with their belts”, a teacher testifies during the investigation . This extract made me  deeply flinched.

In  a cultural heritage developed over thousands of years:

Including the Terra Cotta Warriors whose destruction was stopped just in time by the government.China-TerraCotta-Army

That made me think of the destruction of The Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 by the Talibans, Palmyra temples, monasteries and mindless vandalism nowadays by ISIS. Ancient history wiped out by blind ideology ( whether religious or political) and sheer provocation in the face of  the world.

Back to the book :   –

  • a bit lengthy and repetitive in Beijing description, I had more or less sensed it. 
  • a lesser interest in the two main protagonists’ too complicated relationship
  • no real surprise at the end of the story: numerous pebbles left by Peter May in the book help the reader, long before the final full stop,  to find out who the bad guy is. Too predictable!

In a nutshell, without history I don’t think I would have carried on reading his series. I am just  glad I discovered him  with his Hebrides stories. Just about to read Book III set in Shanghai and hope my trip won’t turn short!