Thief of Souls is the first book in the Inspector Lu Fei mystery series. I’m not sure how long the series is intended to go, but I know a second book was released earlier this year. In fact, Bookpage’s review of the newest installment is what had me track this one down at my local library.
Inspector Lu Fei is a mid-level law enforcement agent for China’s Public Security Bureau (PSB). He lives and works in the rural agricultural town of Raven Valley. The reader quickly gets the feeling that this job is a serious demotion from Lu Fei’s previous position. He used to work in the bustling city of Harbin, located in northeastern China (Harbin’s Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival looks remarkable). However, an unknown event led to Lu Fei being simultaneously promoted and sent to the boondocks all at once. Instead of solving high-profile crimes, he languishes in Raven Valley responding to calls about lost poultry and fender benders. However, he seems content enough in his life. He barks at his subordinates to keep them in line, enjoys some warmed wine at the local bar, heads home to read some classic poetry or philosophy. Not a bad life.
However, the homeostasis of Raven Valley is thrown out of whack when a young woman is found brutally murdered in her home. Lu Fei faces pressure from every which way to quickly solve the case. The local party secretary, the chief, the community, the media, the national Criminal Investigation Bureau – everyone is breathing down his neck. We see a different side of Lu Fei as he navigates the realities of his social and political contexts while trying to find justice for the murder victim. What’s more important – order or justice? Can we have both at once?
I enjoyed this book immensely. Lu Fei is a fun protagonist. He can play the game but his sense of justice leads him to some impulsive decisions that don’t necessarily help his righteous cause. The writer also uses Lu Fei as a transmitter of classic writings, ideas, Chinese vocabulary, and other contextual information that helps the reader feel transported to contemporary China. I enjoyed learning about Chinese culture as much as I enjoyed unraveling the mystery itself. As a fan of detective media across all mediums, I also enjoyed the hard-boiled elements of the story.
If you enjoy detective novels I can’t think of a reason not to read this one.