Book review: Murder in the Forbidden City

Murder in the forbidden cityMurder in the Forbidden City:
Qing Dynasty Mysteries Book 1

As a book blogger, I receive many offers of books every week. One day, I’ll have to count how many, and the percentage of the select few I accept. It really pays to be picky and to save time for great books. Murder in the Forbidden City sounded so different that I said yes to it.
Imagine: a murder mystery set in Peking Forbidden City in the 19th century! It was all I expected and I’m thrilled to present it to you today, on its release date!

 

We are in 1867. The book opens on the regent empress in tears: Lady Yun, 15, one of her ladies-in-waiting, was just found murdered. Inspector Gong has been called to investigate, but he faces a difficult challenge: as a man, he is not allowed access to the inner court.
A solution could be to ask the help of the victim’s sister-on-law, a former lady-in-waiting herself. But how can Gong, a man, and a Han, manage to convince a woman, a Manchu, for this delicate matter? However, if the killer is still at court, who knows if there won’t be another murder? Time is of the essence.

I thoroughly enjoyed the suspense, the well-designed plot, with the unexpected motive for the murder, as well as the original murder weapon, though totally in keeping with the place and time.

As a historical mystery, the background was superb, with a lot of fascinating information on the Chinese society of the time, its customs, and the place and role of women; the difference of classes between Manchus and Hans; the clash between traditional Confucian and spreading Buddhist principles.
There were also allusions to a past conflict between the Chinese court and the White Devils, the British.
And finally life at court in the Forbidden City, with the role of  ladies-in-waiting, eunuchs, court-ministers, wives, and concubines. And its jealousies, gossip, and bribes!
There were even some unusual details, such as a special recipe for contraception!

I only regret the presence of a few typos, at least in the digital edition, even with a character sometimes called Kwon, sometimes Kwan. But there were just a few isolated cases, and they didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying the book, as well as looking forward to next volume in the series.

VERDICT: Off the beaten track historical mystery! Set in Peking Forbidden City in 1867, it offers a captivating way to discover life and intrigues in the Chinese court.

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Author: Amanda Roberts
Publication: July 11, 2016
by Red Empress Publishing
Pages: 214
ISBN: 978-0997772982
Genre: historical mystery

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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this ebook for free from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.

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9 thoughts on “Book review: Murder in the Forbidden City

  1. I wonder if you have read the classic political thriller set in the Forbidden City: René Leys by Victor Segalen. You can read it in the original French! Segalen was a Belgian archeologist who worked in China in the first decade of the 20th century; his book wasn’t published until his death in 1922. It is set in the Forbidden City at the time of the fall of the empire. Here is the description on my copy:
    “In a plot both unusual and complex, René Leys unravels the timeless Western fascination with the mysteries of the Far East. At once a psychological thriller, a lyrical evocation of a vanished Empire and a meditation on the imagination this fascinating novel has been hailed in France as an unjustly neglected masterpiece of twentieth-century literature.”

    There is also a curious link with one of our recent (Australian) Prime Ministers, the Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd, who was tutored in Chinese literature by Pierre Rykmans, a professor at the Australian National University since the 1960s. Rykmans was Belgian and, for his non-academic publishing, he adopted the nom de plume of Simon Leys in honour of Segalen’s eponymous novel (to not offend the Chinese and avoid putting his frequent visits to China at risk). His last authored work was The Hall of Uselessness (2011) though his translation of Simone Weil’s 1940 essay On the Abolition of All Political Parties was published in 2013 just before he died. On my reading list are Rykman’s acclaimed Chinese Shadows (1974), and his novella La Mort de Napoleon (1986) which has been described as a masterpiece (compared to Le Grand Meaulnes!).

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  2. This would be a good companion to a series written by Qiu Xiaolong which is set in Shanghai in the 1990s – a time when China is opening up to the west but where the communist party still rules

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  3. Pingback: 2017: July wrap-up | Words And Peace

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