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Chinese Whispers: A China Thriller    by Peter May order for
Chinese Whispers
by Peter May
Order:  USA  Can
Poisoned Pen, 2009 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

As soon as I'd taken in the first few pages, I wanted to read the five earlier books (beginning with The Firemaker) in this police procedural series set in modern Beijing, China. They star American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell and Chinese police Deputy Section Chief Li Yan.

At this point in the series, Margaret and Li Yan have a child (Li Jon) together, though they cannot marry because of the potential impact on Li Yan's career - generally the Section Chief's superiors turn a blind eye to their relationship. Margaret, surviving 'from visa extension to visa extension', is going through the adjustment problems that any professional woman has after she stays home with an infant, and Li Yan is overwhelmed by his latest case, in which a serial killer appears to be emulating the work of Jack the Ripper.

Having been in Beijing in the mid-80s when rush hour was a maelstrom of bicycles, I was intrigued to read about how the city has evolved since then. And I very much enjoyed the minor players in the story, especially Li Yan's mother surrogate Mei Yuan (a street pancake seller who poses him riddles), and his dead uncle's best friend, the wise and enigmatic Lao Dai. As the pressure builds on Li Yan to find the Beijing Ripper (who also sends him parcels), he attends a demo session on new brain fingerprinting research, leading to another death.

This latest case ripples upwards to set powerful enemies after Li Yan's family and his job. Old friends turn away from the political contagion, and Li Yan wonders how he can find a killer without resources. The situation does bring him closer to his estranged father, who suffered similarly during the Cultural Revolution. There's a surprising resolution and a crescendo of a conclusion, all of which made me keen to read more about this unusual couple in Beijing.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Here's another blockbuster from Peter May, known for his Enzo File mysteries as well as this China Thriller series. Chinese Whispers features a Jack the Ripper (of 1880s infamy) in modern day Beijing. When women are found brutally murdered in mimicry of Jack the Ripper, Li Yan, the head of Beijing's serious crime squad, comes on the scene.

Yan is soon close on the trail of this sick murderer and he so informs his superiors. That's when life as he knows it begins to come to an end. His live-in girlfriend is denied a visa to remain in China but their little boy is supposed to remain behind when she is deported. Yan is put on suspension from his job, accused of leaking valuable information to the press. His sister is arrested on false charges and his aged father bullied.

I simply can't reveal any more of the plot. It is so deliciously diabolical that the reader must experience it with no beforehand knowledge. Believe me when I say that Chinese Whispers is well worth the read. As with other of this series, one learns just a bit more of this huge country in easy to take increments. How a foreigner fares with the ethnic population is also quite interesting. Obviously, mixed couples are viewed with suspicion.

The streets of Beijing come alive with May's words. The characters are so believable that they are welcome like old friends. But, the action. Ah! The action. Non-stop, with gut-wrenching scenes. The build up at the explosive ending stopped me from breathing 'til the last word. Don't miss Chinese Whispers.

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