The final volume of the “Red Princess” trilogy, Dragon Bones had me captured from the get-go. The author introduces us to the mighty Yangtze River in China by portraying the voyage of a corpse as it is swept, crashing and smashing and sometimes floating its way through the Three Gorges and the massive dam of that name still under construction, until fetching up on the outskirts of a city, setting the stage for an investigation by our intrepid couple Detective Liu Hulan and her attorney husband David Stark — an investigation which leads to high-level corruption, more deaths, and a frightening new cult that has begun to sweep the nation.
Having traveled the Yangtze myself in 2007, I was intrigued not only by the author’s in-depth portrayal of the history of that mighty river but, as importantly, her adroit handling of the vast controversy that surrounded—and still surrounds—the Chinese government’s decision to build the world’s largest hydroelectric dam known as the Three Gorges. A crucial move to not only generate vast quantities of energy for building and modernizing the nation and for controlling the devastating floods and thereby opening up huge areas of cultivable land, the government’s decision to build the dam nonetheless triggered a lot of opposition both at home and abroad, among other things for the displacement of millions of villagers whose ancestral homes, family gravesites, and historic artifacts ended up under water.
The author as usual manages to infuse her plot with healthy doses of Chinese history and political intrigue, and enough mystery and surprise twists in her story to keep most of us guessing who the murderer is. There are many kinds of victims in See’s novels, but she presents her characters with enough depth that no one is ever totally black or white–not even the villain. She has also added an extra layer of emotional angst to Dragon Bones by opening up her story with Hulan and David trapped in a paralyzed marriage five years after the death of their child. That they both love each other goes without saying, but their inability to communicate is painful to see even as they are forced to depend on each other to solve this latest murder–and survive. A worthy conclusion to this fascinating trilogy.