Inspector Chen Books in Order: How to read Qiu Xiaolong’s Series?

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Written by Qiu Xiaolong, Inspector Chen’s mysteries take us back to Shanghai in the 1990s to follow the investigation of a detective caught up in the politics of a changing China. A poet by training, Chief Inspector Chen Cao didn’t become a detective by choice. But when his uncle was discovered to be a counter-revolutionary, he was assigned to the Shanghai Police Department. Chen became good at his job and the Party started to choose him for the most sensitive investigations.

How to read The Inspector Chen Series in Order?

Every entry in the Inspector Chen book series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.

  1. Death of a Red Heroine – A young “national model worker,” renowned for her adherence to the principles of the Communist Party, turns up dead in a Shanghai canal. As Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Special Cases Bureau struggles to trace the hidden threads of her past, he finds himself challenging the very political forces that have guided his life since birth.
  2. A Loyal Character Dancer – Inspector Chen’s mentor in the Shanghai Police Bureau has assigned him to escort US Marshal Catherine Rohn. Her mission is to bring Wen, the wife of a witness in an important criminal trial, to the United States. Inspector Rohn is already en route when Chen learns that Wen has unaccountably vanished from her village in Fujian. Or is this just what he is supposed to believe?
  3. When Red Is Black – When the murder of a woman is reported to the Shanghai police while Inspector Chen is on vacation, Sergeant Yu is forced to take charge of the investigation. The victim, Yin Lige, a novelist known for her banned book, has been found dead in her tiny, humble room off the stairwell of a converted multi-family house.
  1. A Case of Two Cities – Inspector Chen Cao is summoned by an official of the Party to lead a highly charged corruption investigation. Tentacles have spread through the police force, the civil service, the vice trade, and deep into the criminal underworld. The principal figure and his family have long since fled to the United States, beyond the reach of the Chinese government. But the network is still intact and it is only a matter of time before it becomes stronger than before.
  2. Red Mandarin Dress – A serial killer is stalking the young women of Shanghai. The killer’s calling card is to leave the victims’ bodies in well-trafficked locations, each of them redressed in a red mandarin dress. With the newspapers screaming about Shanghai’s first serial killer, Party officials anxious for a quick resolution, and the police under pressure from all sides, something has to give.
  3. The Mao Case – The Minister of Public Security insists that Inspector Chen personally take on a ‘special assignment.’ Leery of international embarrassment, the party is concerned about rumors related to Chairman Mao. Jiao, the granddaughter of an actress who had a ‘special relationship’ to Mao has moved into a luxury apartment and become involved with a new social set. Worried that Jiao has inherited some sort of artifact that could prove damaging to Mao’s reputation, Chen has been given a few short days to infiltrate her social circle.
  1. Don’t Cry, Tai Lake – Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is offered a bit of luxury – a week’s vacation at a luxurious resort near Lake Tai. Unfortunately, the once beautiful Lake Tai is now covered by fetid algae, its waters polluted by toxic runoff from local manufacturing plants. Then the director of one of the manufacturing plants responsible for the pollution is murdered and the leader of the local ecological group is the primary suspect of the local police.
  2. Enigma of China – Zhou Keng―a trusted princeling, son of a major party member―was head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee when a number of his corrupt practices were exposed on the internet. Removed from his position and placed into extra-legal detention, Zhou apparently hanged himself while under guard. While the Party is anxious to have Zhou’s death declared a suicide, and for Chief Inspector Chen to sign off on that conclusion, the sequence of events doesn’t quite add up.
  3. Shanghai Redemption – For years, Chen Cao managed to balance the interests of the Communist Party and the demands made by his job. He was considered a rising star until, after one too many controversial cases that embarrassed powerful men, he found himself neutralized. Under the guise of a promotion, he’s been stripped of his title and his influence, discredited and isolated. Soon it becomes clear that his enemies still aren’t satisfied, and that someone is attempting to have him killed – quietly.
  1. Hold Your Breath, China – Chief Inspector Chen and Detective Yu Guangming are brought into a serial murder case when the Homicide squad proves incapable of solving it. But before Chen can make a start, he is called away by a high-ranking Party member for a special assignment: to infiltrate a group of environmental activists meeting to discuss the pollution levels in the country and how to prompt the government into action.
  2. Becoming Inspector Chen – After a number of grueling cases, Chief Inspector Chen is facing mounting pressure from his superiors, many of whom are concerned with where his loyalties lie. What’s more, he is excluded from an investigation into an incendiary poem posted on an online forum. Wracked with self-doubt and facing an anxious wait to discover the fate of his career, Chen is left to reflect on the events that have led to where he is now – from his amateur investigations as a child during the Cultural Revolution, to his very first case on the Shanghai Police Force.
  3. Inspector Chen and the Private Kitchen Murder – Min Lihau, a mingyuan, runs a ‘private kitchen’ for powerful figures in Shanghai. Min’s accused of murdering her assistant, yet Chen Cao is struck by its similarities to a historic case involving the famous Judge Dee. When an acquaintance of his is murdered in connection with Min, Chen knows he can’t stand idly by . . . but he must act in secret, under the cover of writing a Judge Dee novel.

  1. Love and Murder in the Time of Covid – The Covid crisis is at its height in China. Ex-chief inspector Chen Cao is debating whether to translate the ‘Wuhan File’ – a diary of life during the Wuhan disaster smuggled to him by a close friend – and expose the CCP’s secrets to the world when to his surprise he is summoned by a high-level party cadre to help investigate a series of murders near a local Shanghai hospital. Under pressure from the Party to reach a quick conclusion and help maintain political stability, Chen investigates, aware that he too has been placed under omnipresent, omnipotent surveillance.

Published as Book 10 in the series.

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