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Catherine Sampson's top 10 Asian crime fiction

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Catherine Sampson's latest novel, The Pool of Unease, is set in Beijing, where the author has lived for many years. Her earlier books, Falling Off Air, and Out of Mind, both featured journalist and single mother Robin Ballantyne. In The Pool of Unease, Robin Ballantyne investigates the murder of a British businessman in Beijing. The book also introduces private detective Song Ren, who is miserably staking out a brothel when he hears a blood-curdling scream, and goes to inquiry which rapidly becomes entangled with Robin's.

"If you only looked at size of population, you'd expect China and India to dominate any list like this, but in fact it is Japan which has taken crime fiction to its bosom. In China, politics adds a thick layer of complication. To write about crime in China - however fictional - is to advertise the fact that Chinese society is not an entirely harmonious and benign thing. Of course, China's leaders are a lot more tolerant than they once were when it comes to literature, but it's still sensitive, and crime fiction is a small but growing genre. The Beijing that I see around me, with its speed-of-light economic growth, its social dislocation, its constantly migrating population and its quagmire of corruption, is a verdant pasture for crime fiction. And its political claustrophobia is the perfect environment for a private eye who is an honourable man struggling against a system that threatens to overwhelm him.”
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From publisher (Pan Macmillan)

A gritty, fast-paced thriller that shatters traditional preconceptions and exposes the shadowy underbelly of modern China.

The scream – female, high-pitched, terrified, breathless, a wordless, formless, plea for mercy – arrived from silence and was cut off, abruptly strangled, leaving a gurgling echo in its airy wake . . .

Robin Ballantyne is investigating the murder of a British man in Beijing. But in a city thick with paranoia and corruption, she struggles to separate rumour from reality.

Meanwhile, late one freezing night, Chinese private detective Song rescues a young boy from a fire on a building site. With witnesses appearing from the murky surrounds, bloody clothes on the ground but no body, and flames blazing around him, Song panics and flees through the woods – still clutching the boy.

From the smog of the capital to the poverty-stricken countryside, and from the mansions of millionaires to a disused quarry where the children of scavengers root among the rubbish, Song and Robin must unravel the truth behind the murders before they find themselves silenced – and before the killer can make another sinister move . . .

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