Book Review: A Drop of Chinese Blood by James Church

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Title: A Drop Of Chinese Blood.

Author: James Church (nom de plume).

Genre: Detective Fiction.

Publisher: Minotaur Books.

Publication Date: November 13th 2012.

Hardback: 304 Pages.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone, although James Church has penned several other ‘Inspector O’ novels.

Why did I choose to read this book?: I was flattered to learn that someone, other than my family, was reading my blog. As a result of this, I was sent this book through the post because they thought I would enjoy reading it, so I did.

Where to read: A very comfy armchair.

Refreshments: Chicken noodle soup – the number of times noodles are referred too can’t help but make you want a bowl!

Review:

This book is written by a former U.S Intelligence Officer who worked for a long time in Asia and has used his past experiences to create a series of novels centered on a fictitious former North Korean officer known as Inspector O.

In this outing, the novel is written from the view point of the inspector’s nephew, Major Bing, who works as the chief of the Chinese Ministry of State Security operations on the border with North Korea. He is an unenthusiastic landlord to his uncle and, after his wife ran off with all his money and a pastry chef, has a pile of debts to pay not to mention continued attempts to prevent bulldozers destroying his house.

In this adventure not only does Bing have private issues to contend with but now has to deal with the fact that his predecessor appears to have defected to North Korea. Bing is tasked to bring him back across the border along with a forged government seal, with his uncle as a reluctant side-kick. In a complex plot involving fake noodle chefs, femme fatales and counter intelligence teams, Bing finds himself on a road-trip to Mongolia with his uncle in tow to try and connect the multiple strings that seem to be tying him up in knots.

The most important part of this book is the relationship between Inspector O and his nephew. It not only reflects the tensions between North Korea and China but it also provides unexpected comedy. The fact that both his father and uncle worked in North Korean Intelligence casts a shadow on Bing’s trustworthiness as a Chinese officer and is something that is repeatedly touched upon as he gets dragged into this web of intrigue. His uncle’s connections is one of the main reasons he gets given this assignment and is also why he gets pulled into a number of difficult situations involving the Mongolian police. The suspicion that taints this area is touched upon by their relationship, but as a reader that doesn’t know much about this history it would have been nice to have a little more in terms of background.

What I enjoyed most is that Church has injected a hearty dose of sarcasm into the dialogue notable favourites being, ‘Want the last pork dumpling? Or should we wrap it up & give it to the woman from the Muslim Hotel?’ and, ‘he had hooded, dark eyes and a cruel mouth, as if he ate orphans.’ This banter allows you to connect with the characters and offers an insight into the relationship between the cantankerous Inspector O and the sceptical Bing as well as adding a humorous edge to the story.

Church clearly knows his subject matter and is well versed in the political history of this region however, as a reader who’s not completely au fait with the intricacies of the relationship between China, North Korea and Mongolia it was not the most straightforward read. This coupled with the multitude of sub-plots, lies and deception made it often confusing as to whom and what was involved in any given part of the story.

In addition, the background of Inspector O and also his brother, Major Bing’s father, is left very vague when this is probably one of the more intriguing sub-sections of the plot. These issues might be explained in more detail in previous Inspector O novels, but taking this as a stand-alone novel it’s quite frustrating as a reader to have a lot of gaps left in the characters lives.

Overall I enjoyed the sarcasm, wit and humour that dominated the two central characters, however, as a detective novel I found it confused as if the author was trying to achieve too much from a plot that at first seemed relatively simple.

Rating: 5 out of 10.

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