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The Dragon Eye series - The Dragons of Shandong

by Long, Martin

A corrupt Nanjing government official is murdered on a snow-covered beach in Qingdao, a coastal city in Shandong, in north-east China. Sent to follow the local investigation, Senior Inspector Tian Haifeng is not on home turf. Should he slow down the investigation for fear of the sleaze it will expose back home in Nanjing or should he do his own investigating? Much to the irritation of his Qingdao CID counterpart, to elucidate the case, Haifeng draws characters in the snow using goose feathers, speaks in metaphors, and meditates on the famous local black dumplings. For Haifeng too is being toyed with. He knows a young local woman with dyed red hair knows more about the murder than she admits. She spends her mornings beach combing and her days selling sports shoes in a store for a pittance. Going by the name of her hero, Jane Austen, the impoverished woman who was never able to study literature at university, leads Haifeng on with riddles and references to the great foreign writer. She guides him through the old, crumbling German concession and the hidden quarters of Qingdao, refusing to tell him bluntly what she witnessed – for she and her family have suffered too much at the hands of ignorant brutes. The woman – a metaphor for the city itself – wants Haifeng to understand the why of the murder before the who, to understand life before he investigates death. In the story of life and death that Haifeng must understand, it all comes down to traditional kites and paper lanterns.

The Dragon Eye series 

Following his wife’s death Public Security Bureau officer Tian Haifeng is transferred to his home town of Nanjing as CID Senior Inspector. Living with his sister and teenage son, he has made his mark on his old patch, gaining the trust of Divisional Head Hu Tang and working closely with junior officer Jin Yun. 

Haifeng sticks out in a crowd with his burnished skin and face of a mountain peasant – certainly not the face of his deceased Han mother or drunkard Han father, and with each case he works on, he is unconsciously seeking his own origins. For him, an unsolved murder is an unread story and a betrayal of the victim. 

As a detective, Haifeng is not the classic hard-nosed loner. Though he doesn’t suffer fools, he is a man who understands the underdog and the downtrodden, and fights for them. He has to navigate the political minefields of his job, raise a teenage son, and handle his own love life. China is changing, and so must Haifeng. 

This originality of this series is in its blend of crime fiction with the discovery of local culture in widely diverse regions of China: Xinjiang in the remote north-west, Yunnan in the foothills of Tibetan plateau, the capital Beijing, the “renegade” island of Taiwan, and the north-east province of Shandong, for the first five in the series. 

The investigations take the reader off the beaten path, avoiding, on the whole, over-familiar Chinese issues such as pollution, politics and freedom. Instead, they are woven from myriad of every-day incidents of a uniquely local colour – elements and leads that Tian Haifeng discovers and follows in each case. 

Although the series develops chronologically each book can be read as a stand-alone crime novel. The French publisher of Martin Long, In Octavo, has started the series with The Sisters of Beijing (“Les Soeurs de Pékin”). 

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