Playing for Thrills

Reading this Chinese mystery is not unlike running with one foot glued to the ground. Perhaps it’s the translation, but more likely it’s the subversive quirkiness of the author, a popular Chinese novelist who has clearly devoured his hardboiled American crime novels and seen more than a few European films loaded with angst and noirisms. Maybe there was a murder 10 years ago. Dissolute narrator Fang Yan, a rebel without a cause in Beijing, does recall a woman, a job, a table full of friends and one figure sitting close by whom he can’t quite identify. The authorities have picked Yan as their best suspect. He moves in panic through his beloved Beijing, always meeting people he knows, and even some who think he’s someone else. Is he that someone else? Did he actually kill once? Is the man really dead? And who is the sitting figure on the far edges of his memory? The humor is dry yet clearly intentional. The cultural references are slight enough that these could be whoring, gambling, shiftless young men pretty much anywhere. Yan is a slovenly immoral drifter living on his charm and his wits-and clearly running low on both. Even if he’s not guilty in this particular instance, he deserves at least some of the mental torture the narrative creates for him in a series of plot lurches drawn in equal parts from crime lore, existentialism and pure moral farce.

Text: Shuo Wang. hardcover. Publisher: William Morrow & Company, New York, 1997.

ISBN: 9780688130466| 0688130461

ID: AM-5727

Product Description

Reading this Chinese mystery is not unlike running with one foot glued to the ground. Perhaps it’s the translation, but more likely it’s the subversive quirkiness of the author, a popular Chinese novelist who has clearly devoured his hardboiled American crime novels and seen more than a few European films loaded with angst and noirisms. Maybe there was a murder 10 years ago. Dissolute narrator Fang Yan, a rebel without a cause in Beijing, does recall a woman, a job, a table full of friends and one figure sitting close by whom he can’t quite identify. The authorities have picked Yan as their best suspect. He moves in panic through his beloved Beijing, always meeting people he knows, and even some who think he’s someone else. Is he that someone else? Did he actually kill once? Is the man really dead? And who is the sitting figure on the far edges of his memory? The humor is dry yet clearly intentional. The cultural references are slight enough that these could be whoring, gambling, shiftless young men pretty much anywhere. Yan is a slovenly immoral drifter living on his charm and his wits-and clearly running low on both. Even if he’s not guilty in this particular instance, he deserves at least some of the mental torture the narrative creates for him in a series of plot lurches drawn in equal parts from crime lore, existentialism and pure moral farce.

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