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The Firemaker    by Peter May order for
by Peter May
Order:  USA  Can
Mobius, 2018 (1999)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've been reading this series in reverse, having discovered Peter May's Chinese Whispers first, and then gone back to the beginning for The Firemaker. It's set in modern China, mainly in Beijing, where the author sets of fireworks of both mutual attraction and culture clashes between Chinese police Deputy Section Chief Li Yan and visiting, feisty American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell.

They meet soon after she gets off the plane, when her car knocks him down, and their relationship continues to grate for quite some time. Margaret took a lecturing position in Beijing to escape a personal tragedy and made no effort to bone up on the Chinese way of life - her foot is permanently in her mouth. Li sees her as 'a yangguizi with a fast mouth.' They meet again when Li's supervisor insists on her performing the autopsy on a man found burned in a park - Margaret proves that he was murdered and sorts out a speedy identification. It seems the murderer was busy that night as he left his mark at the scene of three very different (though there are hints of a drug connection) killings.

What ties them together? Li works hard to find out, assisted by Margaret, whose interest in the crime is matched by her growing attraction to the handsome policeman. In addition to the two leads, the minor characters are fascinating - Li's mother surrogate Mei Yuan (a street pancake seller who poses him insightful riddles), his beloved uncle Old Yifu who's a chess master, his best friend, chef Ma Yongli, and the love of Yongli's life, Lotus, who is a prostitute. There's also an ugly American, the obnoxious Dr. McCord, who's been involved in the development of genetically engineered super-rice - I appreciated the education on what's involved in the production of GM food and its risks.

As Li and Margaret track the killer, someone is also watching them, and both policeman and foreigner are soon in way over their heads, scared, and on the run. The Firemaker is a thrilling story, centered on a timely topic, and offering insights into modern China and the Cultural Revolution. It has only increased my appetite to devour more in the series.

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