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The Runner: The Fifth China Thriller    by Peter May order for
by Peter May
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2010 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Peter May brings us back to Beijing and Detective Li Yan in another of his excellent China Thriller series. When top ranked athletes start dying before the Beijing Olympics - in what seem to Li Yan suspicious circumstances - he jumps in with both feet to prove that the timing of their deaths is not just a coincidence. Three promising young men are lost to a car wreck. One appears to be a suicide. Another expires in the arms of his lover.

Margaret Campbell (a well regarded forensic pathologist and also Li Yan's fiancée) is asked to perform an autopsy on the one athlete who had not been cremated. There are strange findings, but not enough to have caused the young man's death. And why did most of these athletes have their heads shaved?

This novel starts off running and doesn't slow down until the last page - but that is not unusual for this series. May has the knack of catching reader attention, and not letting go. While Li Yan investigates these strange deaths, he (as always) has other problems. One of his subordinates is openly after his job - and it looks like he might get it. Margaret is pregnant and living alone in a state run apartment. Li's superiors are unhappy about his plans to marry a foreigner and make sure he knows it. They refuse to sanction a larger apartment for him after he and Margaret marry.

Li begins to suspect that information about the case is trickling out of the office to the media, something that is forbidden. Is one of his own men responsible? To top it all off, Li's father journeys to Beijing for the wedding, and lets his son know that he holds him responsible for his mother's death.

The Runner is not to be missed. May's take on modern Chinese life, and the political, social, and economic climate of Beijing is always worth the read. Peter May is the only Westerner to be made an honorary member of the Chinese Crime Writer's Association - a high and well deserved honor.

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