Song Ying is a is an award-winning author in China. He has published five bestselling novels and 15 nonfiction books. Apricot’s Revenge (Minotaur, 2016) seems to be his only book translated into English. This contemporary police procedural was translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-Chun Lin, who have translated the work of virtually all the major Chinese novelists of the post-Mao era--more than 50 books. They have received three translation awards from the NEA as well as other prizes.
Hu Guahao was the ruthless CEO of the largest property development corporation in southern China. The discovery of his drowned body on the beach of a fashionable southern resort rocked the Chinese real estate world. The discovery that he was murdered put the Y District Criminal Division on high alert. All eyes would be on them until they solved the crime. His senior staff, his competitors, and his wife, the obvious suspects, all had unshakable alibis, but the investigation pressed on, looking for someone with motive and access.
The journalist who conducted Hu’s last interview made inquiries on his own, sharing his discoveries with the investigative team. While a reporter would not normally have access to police files, this one happened to be the son of the President of the Southwest Advanced Police University, a Police Commissioner First Rank. His son was not above using his father’s status to his own advantage. He was responsible for discovering the link to the Mao-era movement that took teenagers from their families and sent them to work in rural areas. This group of rehomed young adults were called zhiqing, “sent-down youth.” The story discusses this social experiment in some detail. It was far enough in the past that memories were beginning to fade and the reporter had to delve deeply to find the clue that unraveled the motive for the murder.
While the plot is similar to Western mysteries, the narrative is distinctly not. I found it cumbersome and hard to follow in places. In the case of a translation, it’s hard to know if the author or the translator is the cause of unwieldy writing; in this case I suspect it’s the author. The translators have a good deal of experience and I suspect they simply translated the author verbatim to let his style shine through. The fact the author writes more nonfiction than fiction has something to do with the book’s expository style.
In addition there are a dozen or more characters and each character has a nickname, so there are many names to sort out. I found it a challenge. In short, the plot is good but the writing didn’t showcase it to its fullest advantage. Nonetheless an interesting read.
Starred review from Library Journal.
· Publisher: Minotaur Books (February 16, 2016)
· Language: English
· Hardcover: 320 pages
· ISBN-10: 1250016444
· ISBN-13: 978-1250016447
Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2022
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.