Qiu Xiaolong, Don’t Cry, Tai Lake (Minotaur Books 2012)
I’ve pretty much stopped reading detective novels. Inspector Chen, Chinese poet-detective tempted me back into the genre. There was a promise of insight into the workings of contemporary China, and Chinese poetry ancient and modern, all floating on a light whodunnit froth.
I should have known better. The whodunnit element is flimsy. The poetry feels inserted (though it’s a nice touch that Chen quotes Matthew Arnold as well as verse from ancient dynasties). And any issue of Asia Literary Review offers more insight.
I might still have enjoyed it but, perhaps because had just read Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, my internal blue pencil was on the alert, and this book’s copy editor let far too much go by: not anything gross, but far too much tautology of the ‘There was something eerily familiar about the peddler, Chen noticed, thinking he might have seen him somewhere’ kind, and enough examples of words that don’t mean what they’re meant to mean, as in the book’s very last sentence, ‘He wondered if he would be able to take a nap on the train, feeling the onslaught of a splitting headache.’ A decent copy editor would surely have suggested ‘onset’ because who can wonder about naps in the middle of any kind of onslaught?
I reached for a collection of essays by the impeccable David Malouf.