The Eye of Jade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2008, 12:00am

The Eye of Jade

by Diane Wei Liang

Picador, HK$128

The Eye of Jade was one of the first novels released by Picador Asia, an ambitious publishing venture seeking to promote the best writing from the Far East across the western hemisphere. Having written a moving memoir that began during the Cultural Revolution and concluded in Tiananmen Square (Lake with No Name), Wei has produced an atmospheric mystery set in Beijing at the end of the last century. The Eye of Jade introduces the feisty but vulnerable female private detective, Mei. Something of a novelty (private detectives are still officially illegal in China), Mei is a former police officer who was forced to resign in disgrace. Setting up for herself, she exists on the margins of society, hovering between acceptance and outcast, in a fairly routine thriller revolving around a missing Han-dynasty jade. What drives the story are Mei and her relationships - with her family (her mother, Ling Bai, and her upwardly mobile sister Lu), her ex-lover (Yaping) and Beijing itself. Rendered vividly through its smells, colours, cuisine and people, the city leaps off the page - whether Wei is writing about the restaurant district around Forward Gate or the new developments that were then altering the landscape.