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by James Church
Minotaur Books, December 2012
304 pages
17.99 GBP
ISBN: 0312550634

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Major Bing Zong-yuan is the man in charge of the Ministry of State Security office at Yanji in northern China, on the border with North Korea. He lives with his uncle, 'Inspector O', formerly based over the border. Life suddenly becomes more interesting when the beautiful Fang mei-lin appears on Bing's doorstep, seeking advice from his uncle. For reasons unclear, Fang is a person of great interest to MSS headquarters, but almost as soon as she arrives she disappears again, supposedly to North Korea. Something is clearly afoot, and Bing needs to work out what without delay to avoid criticism from his bosses, or worse.

If the above all sounds a little confusing, it has to be said that the plot does not become much more straightforward. Hardly anything is said to be known as a fact: there are numerous passages throughout the book where Bing and his Uncle discuss what they surmise, and what they suspect, is going on. Much of this discussion makes heavy use of analogy, and underlying it all is the unknown degree to which O is still a player in the game and has sources of information which he does not wish to reveal to his nephew. Equally Bing conceals at least part of his hand from his uncle, and the reader.

It eventually emerges is that the key to all the activity is a South Korean Government seal, a forged version of which is intended to discredit contracts for Mongolian mineral resources, and a variety of secret service operatives from several countries are highly interested. Each of the agencies in the frame, including two other Chinese besides the MSS, have differing perspectives and assets, some of which may be working for two or more organisations.

While all this is very cleverly written, I suspect few readers will be able to follow the plot to the end. The twists and turns become more and more unintelligible, and it would be some challenge to keep pace with the various colourful characters and their supposed loyalties and motivations. Those who fail to do so may find their interest waning.

There are some interesting aspects to this book, in particular the insight it may give into the battles within the intelligence community in a very contentious part of the world. The tone is light notwithstanding the occasional murder or beating-up, and the verbal sparring between the various antagonists often amusing. Those who enjoyed Inspector O's previous outings may be keen to follow his latest escapades. For many, however, I suspect A DROP OF CHINESE BLOOD may be a mystification too far.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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