Summary and book reviews of The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade

A Mei Wang Mystery

By Diane Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2008,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

"Having her own detective agency would give her
the independence she had always longed for. It
would also give her the chance to show those people
who shunned her that she could be successful. People
were getting rich. They owned property, money,
business, and cars. With new freedom and opportunities
came new crimes. There would be much that
she could do."

Present day, Beijing. Mei Wang is a modern, independent woman. She has her own apartment. She owns a car. She has her own business with that most modern of commodities -- a male secretary. Her short career with China's prestigious Ministry for Public Security has given her intimate insight into the complicated and arbitrary world of Beijing's law enforcement. But it is her intuition, curiosity, and her uncanny knack for listening to things said -- and unsaid -- that make Mei Beijing's first successful female private investigator.

Mei is no stranger to the dark side of China. She was six years old when she last saw her father behind the wire fence of one of Mao's remote labor camps. Perhaps as a result, Mei eschews the power plays and cultural mores -- guanxi -- her sister and mother live by...for better and for worse.

Mei's family friend "Uncle" Chen hires her to find a Han dynasty jade of great value: he believes the piece was looted from the Luoyang Museum during the Cultural Revolution -- when the Red Guards swarmed the streets, destroying so many traces of the past -- and that it's currently for sale on the black market. The hunt for the eye of jade leads Mei through banquet halls and back alleys, seedy gambling dens and cheap noodle bars near the Forbidden City. Given the jade's provenance and its journey, Mei knows to treat the investigation as a most delicate matter; she cannot know, however, that this case will force her to delve not only into China's brutal history, but also into her family's dark secrets and into her own tragic separation from the man she loved in equal parts.

The first novel in an exhilarating new detective series, The Eye of Jade is both a thrilling mystery and a sensual and fascinating journey through modern China.

ONE

In the corner of an office in an old-­fashioned building in Beijing's Chongyang District, the fan was humming loudly, like an elderly man angry at his own impotence. Mei and Mr. Shao sat across a desk from each other. Both were perspiring heavily. Outside, the sun shone, baking the air into a solid block of heat.

Mr. Shao wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He had refused to remove his suit jacket. "Money's not a problem." He cleared his throat. "But you must get on it right away."

"I'm working on other cases at the moment."

"Do you want me to pay extra, is that it? You want a deposit? I can give you one thousand yuan right now." Mr. Shao reached for his wallet. "They come up with the fakes faster than I can produce the real thing, and they sell them at under half my price. I've spent ten years building up my name, ten years of blood and sweat. But I don't­ want you talking to your old friends at the Ministry, you understand? I want no police in this...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Fans of page-turning suspense may find this novel a bit too quiet, but readers interested in exploring other cultures and those who appreciate the subtleties of writing more often associated with literary fiction than mysteries, should find this first Mei Wang mystery very enjoyable. The Eye of Jade is an engaging glimpse of modern China blended with some of the compelling elements of the classic "who-done-it" adventure. It is also a work of fiction that successfully introduces one to the intriguing layers of modern Chinese society – a society of ancient tradition and global influence.   (Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).

Full Review Members Only (892 words).

Media Reviews
The Sun-Herald (Australia).

An exquisitely written book, with the added bonus of a great plot and an engaging leading lady.

Publishers Weekly

Mei's challenging family life nicely complements the puzzle of the missing jade and the shifting Chinese political climate.

Kirkus Reviews

Liang ... kicks off her new series by putting the private-eye plot on a back burner to focus on social, family and feminist issues. Not your typical mystery, but written with subtle intelligence and heart.

Library Journal

[A] provocative novel dealing with what truth is and how our personal perceptions cloud reality. Highly recommended.

The Baltimore Sun

Liang's clear, inviting prose already portends a strong future in the genre.

BBC

We've all heard of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling novels about a female private detective from Botswana. Now it's China's turn. On the surface The Eye of Jade is a classic detective fiction with lots of underworld contacts and hushed conversations in noodle bars, but underneath, Liang, who fled China after her involvement in the student protests in Tiananmen Square, is doing something much more than an examination of China old and new. There's an incredible tension between old Communist China and a new capitalist future; this tension is at the heart of the novel. This novel takes on subjects that in the past would have been censored.

Reader Reviews
Kim

So-so mystery
This book suffers, I think, from trying to do too much. Is it a mystery? Is it a family drama? Is it a portrait of life in China in the early 21st Century? The mystery is very weak, and probably won't satisfy readers looking for a new mystery ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Background to The Eye of Jade
Most of the novel takes place in China's capital city, Beijing. Diane Wei Liang emphasizes the contrasting and competing influences molding modern day Beijing in her descriptions of its districts, transportation structure and architecture. A 2008 issue of WIRED magazine featured an example of the innovative and population-dense construction that has sprung up in the ancient city in just the last few years.

The events in The Eye of Jade occur just prior to the culturally significant transition of the colony of Hong Kong (which means "fragrant harbor") from British control to Chinese rule. In the novel, Hong Kong not only appears as the most convenient neighbor for illegally smuggling and ...

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