Monday, December 9, 2013

Review of The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang (Simon and Schuster, 2008)

Head strong and proud, Mei Wang has left her job at the Ministry of Public Security and set herself up as an information consultant, a front given that private investigators are illegal.  Having given up a good position and still without a husband, Mei is a worry for her mother, who idolises her successful sister, a TV presenter who is married to a rich businessman.  When an old family friend, ‘Uncle Chen’, asks Mei to search for a piece of Han dynasty jade stolen from a museum during the Cultural Revolution, she takes up the challenge.  But not long after she starts her hunt her mother has a stroke, forcing her to balance the case with hospital vigils.  Both the case and her mother’s illness lead Mei to question their family history, stirring secrets that might be better left undisturbed.

Many detective stories seek to balance the back story and everyday life of the detective with the investigation and the resolution of the mystery.  In most cases, the balance veers towards the mystery element of the story, with the main character’s personal life and history taking a back seat.  In The Eye of Jade, Diane Wei Liang reverses this balance.  The story mostly focuses on the main character, Mei Wang, and her relationship to her mother and sister, and the family’s murky past tied up in the Cultural Revolution.  As such, the mystery element to the story is largely a plot device to enable the family history and present relations to be examined.  As a result, the investigation is a little thin and sketchy, with a somewhat quick and weak resolution.  This is, however, compensated to a degree by some nice characterisation, especially Mei Wang as a strong willed woman who is a little out of sync and place with Chinese social norms, and nice contextualisation with respect to life in Beijing, Chinese culture and values, family relationships, and China’s recent past.  Overall, a detective story that needed a little more focus on the mystery element, but nonetheless an interesting read.

1 comment:

Spade and Dagger said...

The second book - the paper butterfly - has a better mystery (still slight, but better formed) and some interesting insights into rural china, which makes it a better read all round.