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The Dragon Eye series - The Mothers of Yunnan

by Long, Martin

A destitute monk is murdered in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen in a theme park. A botched enquiry files the death as an accident and fails to identify the victim. Haifeng’s niece, witnessing the murder, is traumatised by the incident. For Senior Inspector Haifeng, an unsolved murder is a betrayal of the victim and the family. Though on vacation in the region, he is unable to ignore his niece’s suffering and his professional instinct. In search of the monk’s identity and, unconsciously, of his own, Haifeng picks up the case unofficially. At the same time, he is struggling with a truculent teenage son who is violently rejecting his father. In an attempt to save his relationship with the boy, he enrols him in the inquiry and sets off on a voyage across Yunnan to the foothills of Tibet and finally to the Kingdom of Women. China boasts of its 56 ethnic minorities that make up a harmonious nation. Haifeng has never heard of the Mosuo – an unrecognised people living by their remote mountain lake, whose unique culture is quickly disappearing. He discovers a matriarchal society with no concept of marriage, of fathers or husbands; he discovers a mountain paradise and a sacred lake; he discovers an ancient religion and its shamanic rituals; he discovers a people in danger from rampant tourism and the financial greed that can lead to murder.

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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