Chinese Whispers By Peter May Coronet $90 In his China Thriller series, Peter May has developed an hybrid of romantic fiction and police drama set in modern Beijing. The series examines the police investigations and developing relationship between top cop Li Yang and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell. Chinese Whispers, the sixth in the series, finds Li, promoted to section chief of Beijing's serious crimes squad, and Margaret living together in Li's police accommodation. Their relationship is frowned upon by officials and Margaret, mother of Li's young son, has no official status beyond her next China visa extension. A serial killer is stalking the streets of Beijing and terrifying the populace, who are clamouring for his apprehension. Dubbed the Beijing Ripper, the killer is targeting prostitutes and butchering them in the same way as that described in a recently published book about Britain's Jack the Ripper. Li begins receiving victims' body parts and personal letters from the killer in the post. These are almost literal Chinese translations of letters that featured in the Jack the Ripper case. As the body count mounts, the urgency to uncover the Ripper's identity before he kills again increases. Meanwhile, a visiting Chinese-American female professor who has been demonstrating the latest forensic equipment is found murdered, supposedly by the Ripper. When the victim's office and apartment are found ransacked, the plot thickens. The US embassy asks Margaret to perform a post-mortem on the latest victim. DNA evidence and inconsistencies suggest the killer may be a senior policeman in Li's department, which brings Li into conflict with the higher echelons of the police, spelling trouble for Li and his family, as it becomes clear he has a powerful enemy. To readers familiar with Beijing, there can be little doubt that the author, a former trainee car salesman turned journalist and TV dramatist, is well acquainted with the city and its people. This knowledge is reflected in his detailed observations on the capital's gridlocked traffic, gloomy streets swarming with unlit bicycles, the sulphurous smoke of coal briquettes, the rapid demolition of old hutongs and the relentless urban renewal in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. The author largely avoids using the stereotypical Chinese characters that people the pages of other novels set in China and written by westerners. However, an aged colleague of a wise Confucian uncle detective who was killed off earlier in the series is still alive and spouting Chinese aphorisms: 'The Tao says, overcome by yielding. Unbend by bending. Be full by being empty.' This is the literary equivalent of the gong that used to sound in movies whenever a Chinese person appeared. In a similar vein, there's an unlikely elderly pancake seller who doubles as a wise mentor by setting Li daily riddles. Those who have read other novels in this series might experience a sense of deja vu, as parts of the plot of Chinese Whispers are similar to some of May's earlier efforts. The relationship between Li and Margaret is vaguely explored and at times serves merely to introduce a little interracial sex. However, Chinese Whispers is primarily a police drama - and it works well on that level. The author knows his way around the capital's police force, how it goes about its investigations, and the ins and outs of police politics. According to May's website, he makes annual trips to China, where he has built up guanxi - personal contacts - with the homicide and forensic science officers. It is also clear that the author has made a detailed study of the methodology of Chinese detectives and pathologists. Even if his schmoozing of cops is exaggerated, May has won over the mainland's hacks. The Chinese Crime Writers' Association made him a member of their Beijing branch, the only western crime writer to receive the honour.