The Fourth Sacrifice
by Peter May
Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover, 405 pages,ISBN: 0312364644
Review by Carl Brookins
Scotsman Peter May is a fine writer and a good journalist. He has experience, a good memory and he knows how to do research. For several months he was afforded unprecedented access to Chinese law enforcement behind the curtains. His books ring with authenticity. Sometimes all this expertise and research gets in the way of a really good story. If readers are fascinated by Chinese history the excavation of the terracotta warriors at X'ian, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, and interested in the rise and fall of the Red Guards during the cultural revolution, here's a novel that opens wide a window on those parts of Chinese history. For the rest of us, there's a little too much detail.
While the mystery is carefully rooted in those subjects, the principal plot concerns the main characters in May's first novel in this series. American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell is a smart, irascible expert, widely recognized in her field. After a disastrous affair with a Bejing detective who had abruptly disappeared from her life, Margaret is determined to return to the U.S. although she has little to look forward to. Then an American citizen of Chinese descent who worked at the American Embassy in Bejing is murdered-decapitated. It is intriguing to the authorities because this killing is similar to three other recent deaths of native Chinese.
Higher authority assigns top detective Li Yan, Margaret's former lover, to the case. Then the Embassy insists that Margaret be present at the autopsy of the dead American. Once again Margaret and Le Yan are forced together in a conflicted and tempestuous joint effort to find a killer or killers.The author's high level skills in characterization and his excellent descriptions of exotic and unusual locations are on display. The novel is replete with insider looks at legal procedures and locations most will never experience. The novel is a wonderful excursion into police procedures and the passions of two individuals from very different cultures who find themselves almost inextricably linked. An excellent novel.
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