The value of connections and relationships is a
frequent topic in the American marketplaces of
business, career and creativity. However, the need
for a reliable and diverse network on the path to
success is a global one, and Diane Wei Liang's first
novel, The Eye of Jade introduces readers to
the complex Chinese version of influence called "Guanxi,"
with the story of an independent female private
detective named Mei Wang. This mystery, the first in
a series featuring detective Wang, also explores
modern Beijing its subcultures and architectural
characteristics and the blend of capitalism,
communism and tradition of mid-1990s China.
First released in April 2007 in the United Kingdom, The Eye of Jade is not the suspenseful, plot-heavy mystery that some might expect. Wang's investigation is almost secondary to her personal and familial life until the two threads unite toward the end of the book. Some may feel that the plot suffers a bit because Liang is introducing detective Wang's back story along with those of her supporting characters in preparation for further books in the series. It seems that setting the scene is equally important to Liang, in this first novel, as the meat of the mystery is.
In The Eye of Jade, Wang's case concerns some Han dynasty antiques purported to have survived the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution. A family friend brings her the project, asking Wang to help him look for a jade seal that once belonged to a legendary Chinese general and ruler. The investigation begins with a friendly meeting with an antiques expert in an ice skating rink and ends with the uncovering of some of Wang's own family's secrets. In between her sleuthing, readers are introduced to Wang's personal life. Sibling rivalry, a longtime mother-daughter grudge and the reappearance of a former love all meld into this story of a female "information consultant" in modern day China.
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.
Next In The Series
The second in the series, Paper Butterfly, was released in the UK in May 2008 and will be released in the USA in May 2009.
This review was originally published in February 2008, and has been updated for the April 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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