After abandoning a successful career at the Ministry of Public Security Mei Wang makes the surprising decision to become an information consultant. In communist China private investigators are illegal but information consultants are not. When Mei is approached by a family friend to locate the whereabouts of a jade artifact from the Han dynasty she agrees to take the case but the trail will lead her to more then just the artifact; it will also pry open family secrets that have been hidden for decades.
When Mei Wang left her job at the Ministry of Public Security her family was incensed and appalled, not only because it was a lucrative career but because she has lost all her guanxi(connecting with purpose). She never revealed her reason for leaving the ministry to her family but even if she had it wouldn't have mattered. Mei has long lived in the shadow of her brilliant, beautiful, and familial younger sister. When Uncle Chen Jitian comes to her and asks her to recover a jade bowl from the Han dynasty Mei begins working on the case. Each new clue takes her down another path that seems to be leading right back to her own family; the mother who is so disappointed in her, and the father that died so long ago as a political prisoner. When Mei's mother suffers a debilitating stroke a figure from her past emerges that adds to the mystery even more and Mei is determined to learn who her mother really is and what, or who, is the Eye of Jade.
While this is ostensibly a detective story, that is only on the surface. Below that the story is layered with historical and political lessons about the rise of Communism in China. The body of the story is set in the late 1990's but it reaches back to the 1960's, a time when an untold amount of priceless Chinese art and artifacts were destroyed under the new regime. The author herself, Diane Wei Liang, fled from China after participating in the Tiananmen Square protests of the late 1980's so she has much invested in this subject. While the story is beautifully written it isn't terribly compelling or edge-of-your-seat as far as mysteries go. A powerful and somewhat sorrowful story but not one I would classify as a detective story.
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 5, 2008)