Precious Dragon: A Detective Inspector Chen Novel
by Liz Williams
Edited by Marty Halpern
Cover Artist: Jon Foster
Review by Colleen Cahill
Night Shade Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597800822
Date: 15 June 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When I think of oriental mysteries, the Judge Dee books by Robert van Gulik jumps to mind. When pondering oriental fantasies, my first thoughts are of Barry Hughart's Master Li stories and Leah Cutter's The Paper Mage. Now I am going to have to add Liz Williams' entertaining Detective Inspector Chen novels, which are a bit of a mystery, a bit of fantasy, and a whole lot of fun. In the latest book, Precious Dragon, Chen and his demon partner Zhu Irzh are thrown into a mix of bureaucratic nightmares, missing opera singers, unusual grandsons, supernatural plots, and a demonic birthday party, all of which could lead to a bad end.
Chen and Zhu Irzh are not having a good week. First, a chorus singer from the Opera disappears at a party they are attending, then they find themselves assigned to escort a member of the court of Heaven on a tour of Hell. Soon after, Chen is attacked by a demon and so is a poor cleaning woman's grandson, an unusual child whose parents are ghosts. When another member of the Opera chorus disappears, this time a young man named Pin, the partners start to get a feeling that something very strange is going on, not only in Singapore Three, but also in Hell and maybe even Heaven. As they unravel this tangle, more pieces are revealed, including an abandoned temple where large winged creatures enter at night, plots in Hell against its own Emperor and a seance where the spirit of Pin inadvertently possesses a demon.
Williams has created an interesting mix of Chinese supernatural combined with a harsh modern world. In Singapore Three, most have to choose between low paying jobs, such as the tawdry existence Pin lives behind the glamor of the Opera, and the more lucrative corporate indentureship, which requires complete obedience and servitude. In this complex universe where the living can phone the dead, it does not seem so strange that Mrs. Pa's daughter has been deceased for decades and can still produce a son.
I was fascinated by Hell, with its system of bureaucracy: there are ministries for every evil, from war, to lust, to epidemics. Among demons, there is a strong system of rank and family connections. When Zhu Irzh is forced to attend his mother's birthday party, we get a good look at the reasons why this demon chooses to spend his time on Earth. This is one of several scenes that had me chuckling, as Williams adds touches of dark humor throughout the book. One of the best was Chen and Zhu Irzh's interactions with their superior Captain Sung, a formerly fierce boss who now uses management lingo to fend off any objections: a modernly hellish touch.
Precious Dragon is able to be enjoyed without having read the previous two titles, Snake Agent and The Demon And The City. If you are like me, you will want to seek out these titles to enjoy more of the oriental atmosphere, the mystical intrigues and the entertaining characters. I recommend this to any fans of oriental mysteries, fantasies or who just enjoy well-written and fun books.