Flower Net is the first of a trilogy by this author, whose Snow Flower and the Secret Fan blew me away when I read it several years ago. This book travels back and forth between the U.S. and China in 1997, and is an incisive political commentary couched in a splendid if somewhat gruesome murder mystery.
Liu Hulan is a beautiful young Chinese detective who has had to fight hard to achieve her respected status, but has to contend with the fact that is a “Red Princess,” the daughter of one of China’s wealthier families with a father who is a powerful vice-minister of public security. She spent most of her formative years alone in the U.S., eventually becoming a lawyer there and falling in love with fellow lawyer David Stark, before suddenly dropping everything—including her relationship with Stark—to return to China more than a decade earlier. Now she is faced with solving the murder of the U.S. Ambassador’s son, while unbeknownst to her, the murdered son of a powerful Chinese entrepreneur has been discovered by Stark—now an Assistant U.S. District Attorney—on a Chinese freighter filled with smuggled illegal immigrants, that was mysteriously abandoned by its crew within U.S. waters. David flies to China in pursuit of clues, only to re-encounter Hulan whom he is never stopped loving.
Hulan and David get paired by their respective governments and sent back to the U.S. to investigate the mystery of the two murdered young men, and are immediately embroiled in a complicated case of corruption, smuggling, more murders, and … bear bile. Turns out the stuff is a key ingredient in many non-traditional medicines, and costs more than heroin on the street, and it keeps turning up in the case. While a fascinating subject in its own right, I was especially intrigued by See’s frequent dips into the past to take a closer look at China’s horrible Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, and the lasting impact it has had on socio-political relations in China up to the present time.
See is no stranger to the complexities of China, coming from a Chinese-American family and having based most of her novels in that vast country, but she does a masterful job in this novel of comparing and contrasting the cultural and political realties in both the U.S. and China, and leaving neither government unscathed in the end. Flower Net, the title of this book, is a Chinese term referring to a style of fishing in China wherein a huge net is cast out on the water, where it opens up like a flower before sinking, trapping all that lies within it.