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When author Qiu Xiaolong set out to write the Anthony Award-winning 2000 novel Death of a Red Heroine—the first installment of the wildly successful Inspector Chen Cao series—he didn’t necessarily have a detective narrative in mind. What he wanted to explore was the tumultuous climate of post-Tiananmen Square China and ultimately, he later revealed in interviews, the adventures of Inspector Chen was the perfect medium to do so.

The story follows Chen—a former poet, a translator of T.S. Eliot, and the symbol of new capitalist ideals—who is assigned by the government to work at the Shanghai Police Bureau. There, he is tasked with investigating the murder of Guan Hongying, a National Model Worker and the epitome of old-guard socialism. The push and pull of both Guan and Chen’s ideological differences, as well as Chen’s moral struggles as he tries to be honest while also remaining loyal to the reigning political party, come together to create a rich examination of the complex societal, political, and economic forces that still exist within China today.—Rachel Sonis

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