I love reading crime fiction. Since my teenage years I’ve worked my way through many of the great and lesser writers in the genre, from Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain, and John D Macdonald all the way up to Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Stieg Larsson and the rest of the Scandi-crime brigade; there are crime writers of every nationality, and they are just the tip of the crime writers iceberg. I want to read them all…but if I did, there would be no time to read anything else…sigh..
So it is no surprise that when I discovered a new Chinese crime thriller by an author I’d not discovered previously I pounced on it at once. It clicked with me because it was crime fiction which I love, and because it was set in China and written by a Chinese author – talk about killing two birds with one stone!
Hanging Devils is the first in a series of four novels by He Jiahong (wonderfully translated by Duncan Hewitt) and jolly good it is too.
Back in the 1990s a Chinese lawyer – Hong Jun, who studied and practiced law in Chicago, returns to his homeland as he wants to help build the rule of law in modern China.
He sets up a legal practice in Beijing, and hires an assistant – the feisty Miss Song.
Almost his first client is one of the new Beijing elite, a noveau riche man who wants Hong Jun to investigate and overturn his brother’s conviction for murder. The brother has been incarcerated in jail for years, for a murder his successful sibling says he did not commit.
With some reluctance, Hong Jun takes the case, and travels to the north east of China to try and discover what really happened. It is a convoluted plot but holds the reader’s interest and attention until the final resolution.
What is particularly of interest from the point of view of western readers, is learning some aspects of how China ‘works’, how it has changed from the Mao era, and how it continues to change in the way it treats its citizens.
Given that the author – He Jiahong – is himself an American-trained lawyer who is now a law professor at one of Beijing’s most prestigious universities, this is not surprising.
The criminal justice system in China is different from that in the UK or in the USA, and is therefore much misunderstood in the west. Through He Jiahong’s writing we get a really fascinating picture of how the legal system works here, and of the cross currents of power and influence in China today.
I look forward to He Jiahong’s other books being translated into English, as Hanging Devils was a really good read.