Classic Crime: Inspector Zhang

zhangHang on, wait. This isn’t ‘classic’ or ‘vintage’ crime. It wasn’t written a hundred years ago. Inspector Zhang is a thoroughly modern man, investigating 21st century crime in the ultra-up-to-date, high-tech, lion city of Singapore. So why classify this short story as ‘classic crime’?

Easy. In ‘Inspector Zhang Gets His Wish’ author Stephen Leather has carefully crafted an affectionate homage to that most enduring of golden-age investigations, the locked-room mystery. It may be set in the gleaming steel spires of one of the world’s most advanced urban environments, but this story owes everything to the traditional intrigue of the English country estate and the dead body found in the guest bedroom. Inspector Zhang adopts the role of the idiosyncratic detective, inspecting the scene from every angle to uncover the crucial piece of compelling evidence. The locked room itself is brilliantly brought into the modern era as a sleek, climate-controlled hotel suite, complete with sealed windows and a CCTV guardian at the gate. The method of murder is obscure and the mystery appears to be impenetrable, but Zhang is more than up to the challenge.

Along the way, the author indulges in an overview of the genre, recounting the time-honoured solutions to this pretty puzzle. But he also imbues the storytelling with the authentic atmosphere of Singapore itself – a sanitised city in which crime is efficiently supressed and murder is almost unheard of. Yet even in this affluent, apparent paradise, evil slithers in the undergrowth…

Short stories may not be as fulfilling as full-length novels, but they’re also mercifully free of the domestic humdrum which weighs down so many recent ‘thrillers’. This one was the perfect length for a lunch break: an elegant and entertaining whodunit which encouraged me to pick up the compiled ‘Eight Curious Cases’ which feature the same detective.

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Inspector Zhang Gets His Wish by Stephen Leather is available as an ebook, frequently free at Amazon

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