Like a good detective, crime writer Peter May is searching for clues. The Scottish author of Chinese-themed thrillers is sifting through piles of information that will lead to his next novel and give his readers a realistic glimpse of the fight against crime on the mainland. May, 50, has written four novels featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American pathologist Margaret Campbell as its main characters, and a fifth book is in the pipeline. 'I was only interested in doing one book,' said May, who now lives in southern France. 'It has been a bit addictive.' May, a television screenwriter and former journalist who wrote his first novel at the age of 26, was bitten by the China bug more than a decade ago. Impressed by the novel Gorky Park and how it captured the mood of Moscow late in the Cold War era, he started searching for a China storyline. He visited the mainland while working on a book about Cambodia. 'I was looking for a story but I had to learn about Chinese cops,' he said during a recent visit to the mainland. The first in his series of Chinese detective novels was The Firemaker, published in 1999. It focused on genetically modified rice and what might happen if scientists got things horribly wrong in the world's most populous country. It proved popular with the public, as well as his publishers, and more books followed. Shanghai was the scene for The Killing Room, about a string of murders in the mainland's commercial centre. All of the victims are women and they appear to have been killed by a surgeon. Much to the embarrassment of local officials, their bodies are discovered in full view of the media at a ground-breaking ceremony for one of the city's skyscrapers. For his next work, May has turned his attention to Beijing. The tale is set amid the preparations for the 2008 Olympics Games with the sudden death of several of China's top athletes. May has had unusually good co-operation from the police in his hunt for authenticity. Officers have opened the usually closed doors of the criminal investigations department, as well as forensics and even a local morgue. The police may have good reason to try to show a more open and positive side. Abuse of power under a weak legal system has badly tarnished their image. They have gained a reputation for beating confessions out of suspects, rather than undertaking the painstaking forensic work that builds an air-tight legal case. The shift to new blue uniforms in 2000 is one sign of a willingness to change. Police are trying to be seen more like their counterparts in other countries - a strictly civilian force. They are undergoing more fundamental changes as well. China's leaders have launched a major anti-corruption drive that has included targets within the force itself. Several prominent national and provincial police officials, including a former vice-minister of public security, have been caught in the net. At the other end of the scale, migrant workers, who end up on the fringes of urban society, have 'become a breeding ground for crime', said May. Police admit crime is rising, even in Shanghai, a city with a relatively low rate by mainland - and Western - standards. May said they were gearing up for a new approach to combat the tide. 'They are very interested in crime-fighting technology,' he said. American specialists have been brought in to lecture and help update crime-busting techniques. Police are also reading Western crime novels, which are seen as helpful in crime-solving. And to reflect that popularity, May has been made an honorary member of the Beijing chapter of the Chinese Crime Writers' Association.