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The Dragon Eye series- The Sisters of Beijing

by Long, Martin

Modern-day China: Widower Tian Haifeng joins a police-force dating web site. Against all hope, the senior CID inspector is contacted by the radiant and charming Bao Yu, and he finds himself daring to love again for the first time since his wife’s death. Bao Yu supposedly has business in Shanghai, only her mutilated body is found in a courtyard house in Beijing belonging to a lesbian in the Beijing jet set. The local PSB have already pinned the crime on her, but have not caught her. Haifeng is faced with the pain of both loss and betrayal. He senses that the case is far from closed and discovers a diary written by Bao Yu in the seventies. Its pages reveal the dreams and illicit loves of the post-Mao years – a short-lived springtime of hope and youthful freedom that would soon be crushed (1978-84, a much-ignored period and a turning point in Chinese history). Studying the diary, he is convinced that the true murderer is hidden in its pages. He tracks down her old companions one by one – who would want to kill Bao Yu, the only Sister of Beijing who escaped the repression that followed the springtime? As his investigation peters out, he receives astounding news: Bao Yu is not dead, but is the victim of a car accident in Shanghai, and in intensive care. The case is turned on its head. The mutilated body was not hers – yet it carried her ID. Was the real Bao Yu the intended victim, or the one who usurped her identity and stole her diary? Will she again become a target for the murderer? Before Haifeng can get to Shanghai, she disappears from the hospital. Again, Haifeng has only the diary to guide him. The past is only yesterday, they say in the old Beijing alleys. Haifeng realises it is true, and must move quickly to find Bao Yu. It leads him to an unconsumed love that has not faded over the decades – and one that is expressed in a uniquely Chinese way.

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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