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Whodunnit gets green twist

DON\'T CRY, TAI LAKE -- By Qiu Xiaolong 272 pp, Minotaur Books US$24.99

DON'T CRY, TAI LAKE -- By Qiu Xiaolong 272 pp, Minotaur Books US$24.99

INSPECTOR Chen is back, and this time Qiu Xiaolong's cop is tackling a mystery that combines murder with environmental issues.

"Don't Cry, Tai Lake", which goes on sale next month, is the seventh novel featuring poetry-quoting detective Chen Cao. Previous outings include "Death of a Red Heroine" - winner of the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001 - and, most recently, 2009's "The Mao Case."

While Shanghai was Chen's patch for much of the previous action, here Wuxi, in neighboring Jiangsu Province, provides the scenic setting for the whodunnit.

The main narrative does not deviate much from the previous Chen books, with the sensitive inspector trying to solve cryptic murder clues while adhering to his code of honor.

But Qiu also tackles different themes in "Don't Cry, Tai Lake", addressing concerns about pollution in China's lakes and rivers.

Inspector Chen is offered a bit of luxury by friends in the Party with a week's vacation at a luxury Wuxi resort near Tai Lake, a week where he hopes to relax, undisturbed by outside demands.

Unfortunately, the once beautiful Tai Lake - renowned for its clear waters - is covered by fetid algae, its waters polluted by toxic runoff from local manufacturing plants.

And when the director of one of the manufacturing plants responsible for the pollution is murdered, the leader of the local environmental group is the prime suspect.

Shanshan, a female environmental engineer, leads Chen into the pollution case, which in turn soon sees Chen investigating the murder of the head of Shanshan's factory. And in a further complication, Chen becomes infatuated by the engineer.

Qiu describes a world in which cops and criminals, the innocent and the guilty, operate according to their own individual codes of honor - or dishonor, as the case may be.

Amidst this world, once again it's the wise and hard-working figure of Chen who impresses most.

He knows when to be a tough cop and when to be a gentle cop; when to ask pointed questions and when to back off.

And showing the inspector's sensitive, poetic side to the full, verses penned by Chen feature in the novel.

"Don't cry, Tai Lake" is a gripping read, bringing together the guarantee of a well-established author and the excitement and charm of a real page-turner.

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