Hazel McHaffie

All in the name of art

The things folk will do for their art!

Author Peter May found himself in the People’s Republic on China by pure chance, taking advantage of a one-day trip advertised in his hotel. It was 1983, shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution. So taken was he with its otherworldliness, that he spent the next eight years reading everything he could about the country – its history, its politics, its culture, its cuisine.

He returned in 1991, this time deliberately, in search of a story. Aware that no one had ever set a crime thriller in Beijing up to that point, he was determined to be the one to do so.

It took another six years for him to go back again, this time with the germ of a story, plus a ‘precious’ introduction to the Chinese police from an American criminologist, formerly detective, revered by the country’s most high profile law enforcers. Thanks to this man’s influence, May was admitted to the world of oriental policing, and over the next seven years was given privileged insights into every aspect of policing he needed. And so The China Thrillers series was born and grew, featuring Chinese detective Li Yan, and American pathologist Margaret Campbell.

So many years, so much patient spade work, such commitment. He continued visiting right up till 2004 and produced no less than six books in the series.

It was almost exactly a year ago, in October 2020, that I reviewed the last book in the series, Chinese Whispers. Perversely, I’m just now reading the first, The Firemaker, published in 1999, which I bought during the pandemic, sufficiently intrigued as to want to join the dots.

This one is packed with detail about Chinese psychology, geography, habits, customs, reactions, life, much of it cleverly conveyed through the medium of Margaret Campbell’s struggles to understand Chinese ways when she’s invited to work in Beijing. It even strays into my territory – genetics and viruses! I have to confess, in places for me if feels a bit too heavily researched, but I reckon if I’d spent that long on a voyage of discovery, I’d want to use the information too!

[Many many thanks to the generous souls who place their fabulous photos on Unsplash for others to enjoy. Rafik Wahba and Kit Sanchez, I salute you.]






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