|by Haohui, Zhou; Haluza, Zac (TRN)
The brutal murder of a respected police officer in Chengdu who had been obsessed with an unsolved eighteen-year-old murder case begins a series of executions by a manipulative mastermind seeking criminals who are beyond the reach of the law.
ZHOU HAOHUI is regarded as one of the top three suspense authors in China today. The Death Notice trilogy is China's bestselling work of suspense fiction to date. The online series based on these novels has received more than 2.4 billion views and achieved almost legendary status among Chinese online dramas. He lives in Yangzhou, in China's Jiangsu province.
Zac Haluza is a freelance translator and writer from the United States. He currently lives in Shanghai.
*Starred Review* When Captain Pei Tao of the suburban Longzhou police is found crouched over the bloodied body of Sergeant Zheng Haoming, Chengdu's most revered detective, he insists that the murder is connected to Zheng's investigation of a notorious cold case. Eighteen years ago, Pei's girlfriend, Meng Yun; his police-academy roommate, Yuan Zibang; and a Chengdu police detective were killed by a vigilante using the moniker Eumenides. Now Pei, after receiving a letter from Eumenides announcing that his "final act" will take place soon, has come to Chengdu hoping to join forces with Zheng. Although reluctant to eliminate Pei as a suspect, Zheng's commander, Captain Han Hao, allows Pei to join the new Eumenides task force. As the task force scrambles to protect those targeted in Eumenides' proclamations, Pei and the team's criminal psychologist, Mu, revisit the killer's first crime, revealing the dangerous competition between Pei and Meng that spawned Eumenides. Zhou's story is thoughtfully constructed (and skillfully translated), balancing an exploration of loyalty, jealousy, and the moral tension between law and justice with Pei's sharp observations and gifted logic. This procedural, the first novel in China's most popular suspense trilogy, boasts the rich cultural immersion, the bird's-eye view of procedural technique in an international police force, and the complex mysteries that have long driven the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
An elaborately plotted thriller that explores the limitations of justice. The murder of the legendary Sgt. Zheng Haoming of the Chengdu Criminal Police reopens an 18-year-old investigation and resurrects a number of ghosts. First on the scene of Zheng's murder is Capt. Pei Tao of the provincial Longzhou Police Department, who had an appointment with Zheng. Pei and Zheng have a history that goes back to the police academy and a crime committed long ago by "Eumenides," a self-styled avenger, and together they had been investigating the possibility that Eumenides has resurfaced. In Greek mythology, Eumenides were the Furies, three goddesses of revenge; in their earlier appearance Eumenides executed three victims. And Eumenides is back, as several victims receive a "death notice" listing the nature of their crimes and the day of their execution. All are guilty of crimes that either were not, or could not be, punished by conventional justice, and Pei and the Chengdu police attempt to both avert the fatal punishments and unmask and apprehend Eumenides. The connections between today's police and the original Eumenides' crimes are dark and twisted, and Pei has a role in both Eumenides' creation and the present pursuit. Much blood flows, and many careers destroyed, before the Furies are dealt with. This is, according to the publisher, the first of a three-part series; the end of this first part certainly invites speculation about the future of several characters, and the dense plotting and exuberant bloodletting would support several novels. But though individual histories and physical details clearly distinguish the characters, the dialogue does not reinforce their variety. The story, set in present-day China, does not offer much local flavor, and the generally homogeneous speech patterns contribute to a general flatness. A complex exploration of crime and punishment that's not totally engaging. Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
Chapter One: An Impending Storm
OCTOBER 19, 2002. 3:45 P.M.
CHENGDU, SICHUAN PROVINCE
A chill had seeped into the air during the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations in September, and it had only deepened as the weeks passed. The last several days had seen constant rain and plummeting temperatures. A mist-laced wind whipped and howled past the city’s high-rises and through its streets, spreading a cold misery through the air. It may have been a Saturday afternoon in Chengdu, but the glum weather had already stripped the provincial capital of its characteristic energy.
Zheng Haoming sprinted out of the taxi, forgetting all about the umbrella resting on the vehicle’s floor. He dashed to the sidewalk and darted into a doorway marked SKYLINE CYBER CAFÉ.
Unlike the sparsely populated streets outside, the internet café was bustling. The shop had always enjoyed a steady stream of customers, as it was located within walking distance of several universities. The café’s pudgy owner stood behind the front desk, flanked by two employees in their early twenties. His last check of the register had come up short, and until he finished reviewing the entire month’s security footage, this red-faced man was determined to witness every transaction that took place inside his establishment. He raised an eyebrow as he noticed Zheng hurrying through the door. A middle-aged man was a rare sight here.
Zheng’s clothes were soaked. His hair was tangled in knots. He placed a bag onto the counter, then fished out a slip of paper from one of its pockets and handed it to the owner. His hoarse voice betrayed a touch of fatigue.
“Look up this address,” Zheng ordered. “Tell me which computer it belongs to.”
The plump owner recognized the string of numbers on the slip, as they fell within the range of IP addresses used by the café’s terminals. However, he regarded the piece of paper with an indifferent glance.
“Why should I?” he replied with a cold, disdainful look.
“Just be quiet, and give me the information!”
The owner shrank back from Zheng’s scorching gaze. The older man’s outburst startled a nearby network administrator as well; the young woman’s bright black eyes swiveled toward the source of the commotion. The owner felt a raw wound where his pride once was.
Zheng appeared to be on the verge of losing his temper. He took out what appeared to be a wallet, unfolded it, and slapped it on the counter.
“I’m a police officer!” he hissed.
The owner looked down, and he immediately sucked in his breath. A badge decorated in red, blue, and gold was mounted inside the upper flap. Below it, protected by a shield of transparent plastic, was a card displaying the man’s picture, name, and rank. He swallowed bitterly and handed the slip of paper to the girl beside him.
“Lin, look this up for Sergeant Zheng.”
The girl compared the address with the others on the server’s control monitor. “It’s in the second row,” she announced a moment later. “Sixth from the left.”
Zheng glanced at the young man seated at that particular computer. He appeared to be around twenty years old, and his hair was dyed red.
“How long has he been there?”
“Since noon. He’s been on for almost five hours.”
Zheng removed a digital camera from his bag. He pointed it at the customer and tapped the shutter button until he had taken ten photographs. Within the clamor of the café, the young man was so absorbed in his virtual world that he did not even notice the stranger taking pictures.
The digital camera beeped. The officer checked the device and saw that its memory was full.
He breathed a sigh of gentle relief, as though he had just completed an important task. Over the past two weeks, he had visited every single internet café in the city, and he had taken over three hundred photographs of the customers inside. Yet he had no idea whether any of his efforts would make any difference.
Come on, just go and see him. It’s been eighteen years, Zheng thought. It’s time.
He left the Skyline Cyber Café and trudged down the sidewalk with a new destination in mind. The wind clawed at his cheeks, and he ducked into the collar of his thin jacket. A fragrant blast of steam from a nearby wonton stall rolled over his face, providing a welcome contrast.
For the first time he realized how truly empty Chengdu’s downtown streets had become over the past few weeks. He felt exposed now. Vulnerable. The feeling was as unfamiliar as it was unsettling. A few cold droplets of rain landed on his neck, and he tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a shiver.
Those words made Zheng Haoming’s blood run cold. Eighteen years ago, he thought he had escaped from this nightmare. Now he wondered if it had ever ended in the first place.
A streetlight flickered over the neighborhood’s north entrance, illuminating a ten-foot gap set between two cement walls. The wide metal gate stood open. Zheng had tried the east entrance first, but the gate there had rusted shut. He aimed his flashlight at the wall on the left. Three characters had been etched into the cement.
“Meiyuan Cun,” Zheng murmured to himself.
Plum Orchard Village. It sounded pleasant enough, but Zheng, who had grown up in this city, knew this place by a different name. Touyoupo Cao, in the local Sichuan dialect. The Cockroach Nest.
After two minutes of navigating the development’s narrow and confusing lanes, Zheng felt like a rat in a maze. Dilapidated single-story apartment buildings boxed him in on every side. A sickly glow flickered from the dim, shattered streetlamps, and an unnerving odor of mildew filled the air.
The rain continued. A layer of sludge glistened upon the pavement. Raw sewage, maybe. Possibly vomit. Ignoring the filth of his surroundings, Zheng walked up to a cramped building. He checked the address and rapped his knuckles three times against the wooden door.
“Who’s there?” From inside the apartment, the weak voice rasped against Zheng’s eardrums, sending pins and needles across his scalp.
After weighing his options, Zheng chose the most direct response.
He heard soft footsteps from inside. Seconds later, the wooden door opened. In the room’s faint light, a grim figure stood before him.
The officer had prepared himself for this moment, yet he still felt himself grimacing with suppressed disgust. He stood face-to-face with a human gargoyle. Of course he had come on a night like this.
Scars the color of mud marked the man’s hairless scalp. As Zheng studied the craggy features of his face, he could not spot a single patch of intact skin. The man’s eyes were askew, and a large chunk was missing from his nose. His upper lip was split at the center, giving him a rabbit-like appearance.
Zheng drew a deep breath. “Huang Shaoping.”
The gnarled man shivered, and he stared at his visitor.
“Are you . . . Officer Zheng?” The man’s voice seemed to rattle through shredded vocal cords, as though he were simultaneously gasping for breath.
Zheng raised his eyebrows. “You remember me, even after all these years.”
“How could I forget?” Huang gritted his teeth. His voice made Zheng picture a rusty saw, but it didn’t stop the officer from trembling with excitement.
“I have pictures to show you. New pictures.” Zheng’s hands trembled so fiercely that he nearly dropped his camera. He stuffed the device back into his pocket. “I haven’t forgotten either. Not even for a second!”
Huang leaned against a walking stick. As he turned to lead Zheng deeper into his home, Zheng saw how badly time had treated his wounds. Huang’s legs were twisted like burnt branches leading down from the painful-looking hump on his back. The house was small, no larger than 100 square feet. A small room had been partitioned off beside the door; peeking inside, Zheng spotted a food-encrusted pot on top of a cooking range. He moved farther inside the main room, brushing a cobweb from his face. A bed, table, and several chairs had been set up here. In the only part of the room that seemed to have any life to it, a news program blared from the old-fashioned twenty-inch television standing atop a pile of yellowed lumber.
Zheng felt a pang of pity for the man. Huang never should have ended up like this. His life had been far from luxurious before, but if not for that vile crime eighteen years earlier, at least he would be able to walk outside without drawing stares and whispers.
After leading his guest to a chair and seating himself on the edge of his bed, the hobbling man wasted no time on pleasantries.
“I don’t understand. It’s been so many years. I’ve heard nothing.”
“Yes, but I’ve never stopped looking. I think he’s back.” Zheng took out his digital camera and found the pictures he had taken earlier. “Here. You must tell me if anyone stands out.”
“They’re all so young!” Huang leaned closer and peered at the camera’s display. His head fell. “It was eighteen years ago—most of these kids hadn’t even been born yet.”
“Please, look again,” Zheng said, scowling. “I’ve waited years for a lead like this. I can’t leave any stone unturned. Even if it isn’t the same person you saw eighteen years ago, there could still be a connection. Focus. Even if you have the slightest suspicion, don’t ignore it!”
The scarred man glanced at Zheng in confusion, but he seemed to be trying. He looked carefully through the camera’spictures, focusing on each one for several seconds. Once he reached the final image, he shook his head.
“Is this all you have?” Perhaps reluctant to disappoint his visitor, Huang added, “Who are these people, anyway?”
Zheng didn’t answer. If it wasn’t even the same person, how was Huang Shaoping supposed to know if they were connected? Zheng’s request was far from simple. In fact, it was absurd. He put the camera away and heaved a grudging sigh. Huang knew nothing. In this eighteen-year-old tragedy, he had merely played the role of victim.
As if he had read Zheng’s thoughts, Huang snickered. It was hard for Zheng to tell who Huang was laughing at. The man’s torn lip curled upward, revealing a row of bone-white teeth.
Zheng raised his eyebrows. “Can you see a doctor about that?” He winced as soon as the words left his mouth.
“Oh, why don’t I give my plastic surgeon a call?” Huang snorted, but it sounded as though he were choking. “Take a look around this place. I’m lucky to have made it this far selling scrap and collecting welfare. Just let this old man die in peace.”
“Well, you’ve seen the photos,” Zheng said brusquely. “Get in touch with me right away if you think of anything. I might come back to ask you more questions sometime soon.”
Huang leaned against his cane and rose up from his bed. His disappointment was perfectly clear. There was nothing more to say.