Did you know a poetry-loving Chinese detective walks among us? Well, not really. But we do
rub elbows with the creator of fictional sleuth Chen Cao: Qiu Xiaolong. The Shanghai native came to Mound City in 1988 on a Ford Foundation grant to study at Washington University. He's been here ever since, writing, translating and teaching. So far Qiu has penned three outings for Inspector Chen: Death of a Red Heroine
(2001), A Loyal Character Dancer
(2003) and When Red is Black
, published earlier this year. The mystery series is enhanced with delicious details of intricately prepared exotic dishes, Eastern poetry and Buddhist and Confucian wisdom. But what really sets Qiu's novels apart is their nuanced exploration of Chinese political conflict. While the author's characters are extremely distrustful of the Maoist propaganda that still pervades modern times, they're also skeptical of Shanghai's capitalist influx. It's that kind of Zeitgeist-consciousness that elevates the crime genre from pulp to primo fiction, and it's a rare commodity indeed.