He’s back! Inspector Lu Fei—a righteous and highly scrupled cop with dogged determination returns for an even more harrowing case, determined to wade through a morass of obstacles to uncover truth and justice.
An immersive police procedural transitions into a thrilling espionage novel as Lu’s investigation catapults him into an undercover operation. The setting is the contemporary People’s Republic of China, in which the ethical inspector Lu Fei faces the challenge of seeking justice in a complex and corrupt society. The narrative unfolds with a healthy dose of humor, history, philosophy, and an unbridled multi-layered characterization of the main protagonists.
Inspector Lu Fei is a graduate of China’s top police university, yet finds himself mired in a small backwater provincial town of Raven Valley. His present demotion and exile are the result of Lu’s unfortunate confrontation with his corrupt boss of the Harbin City Police Department. The inspector executed an unscheduled raid, and found his boss engaged in the service of an underage prostitute.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with ongoing international pressure, the conservationists in the government have intensified efforts to crack down on the illegal trade of endangered animal meat and byproducts. Lu finds himself on stake out in a local market to apprehend Chen, a known and wanted peddler of black-market animal products to local restaurants and apothecaries. Not only the meat, but also bones, teeth, skin, scales, and genitals are greatly desirable. Exotic wildlife and their genitals are touted as aids for erectile dysfunction. Tiger and bear penises and the meat of pangolin, including their scales yield extensive profits on the black market. With over two hundred million surveillance cameras monitoring the citizens of China, it was only a matter of time before Chen was apprehended.
Inspector Lu Fei is confronted in the lobby of his “paichusuo” (police station) by a young girl sitting on a bench: fifteen-year-old Tan Meirong pleads for his help. Her sister, nineteen-year-old, Tan Meixiang, is missing and she fears the worst. “She’s dead or has been kidnapped and sold to a brothel.”
We soon learn of the situation. Meixang supports the family by working at a restaurant in the nearby city of Harbin. Their mother is dead from cancer, and the father is usually drunk and has not worked for three years, because of a “bad back.” She has messaged her dozens of times and called a hundred times without response. Lu responds by embarking on an extensive investigation. Initially, he proceeds by the usual checking of phone records, social media, financials and multiple databases, and hospitals and morgues. When calling the Harbin paichusuo he encounters the expected response: “We’re pretty busy – but we’ll ‘jin liang.’”
Lu knows when they say “we’ll do our best” they actually mean they might get around to thinking about doing something if absolutely nothing else better comes along. Lu takes matters into his own hands, and travels to Harbin to further the investigation by visiting Meixang’s apartment and place of employment. The restaurant is a rather high-end establishment that features exotic meats and dishes that feature medicinal properties. By judging the attire and accoutrements of the diners, this establishment obviously caters to the rich and powerful. Although the main menu does not list any forbidden dishes… there are whispers and requests for “the special menu.” Lu Fei meets with the owner and manager, “Wilson” Fang, and although he denies any knowledge of Meixiang’s disappearance and can provide no helpful information. Lu Fei suspects a linkage between her disappearance and the probable Illegal special menu.
Brian Klingborg provides a masterful and immersive narrative creating a riveting twisted string of multiple unexpected reveals that propel this page-turner. Inspector Lu Fei indicates he’s not a special agent, and just a cop. And, yet to achieve closure and justice he must go undercover, change his appearance, develop a backstory, and infiltrate the inner circle of a nefarious global animal-trafficking operation, embedded deep in the interior jungles of Myanmar. He is posing as Long, Ming, a buyer of exotic bushmeat. During the course of his deception, he is treated to a multi-course meal of crocodile carpaccio, bat boiled in ginger, bamboo rat stuffed with vegetables, and a “hot pot” consisting of pangolin, snake and caterpillar simmered in a base of chicken broth, along with a glass of Shaoxing wine—and for appetizers the penises of either tiger or bear.
Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review. This novel will appeal to fans of other beloved series, such as those of Detective Bernie Gunther from the pen of Philip Kerr and Deon Meyer’s equally enjoyable Detective Benny Griessel. Klingborg’s knowledge of East Asian Studies and his experience with living and working in Asia are on full display in this fascinating tale. Hopefully, there will be many more Inspector Lu Fei investigations.