City of Ice has just about everything you could hope for in a police detective whodunit novel. Skirting the confines of political agendas, corrupt officials and local traditions it sets out to be one of Inspector Lu Fei’s most challenging cases. And as the evidence begins to mount, it’s clear that this is not just a one-off case.
I’ve been wanting to read this one for a long time. It looks to have everything I want in a crime thriller, along with the additional elements of a country I hold a special interest in.
Klingborg has an MA from Harvard University in the field of Chinese Cultural Anthropology. Since then, he’s both lived and worked in China for several years. Currently, he works as a VP at Kumon Publishing – a Japanese company that publishes early education material in the US.
This is also the debut of the Inspector Lu Fei series.
Variety is the ice of life
Opening in blistering minus twenty snowstorms, a young woman’s corpse is discovered, ‘hollowed out like a birchbark canoe.’ In an isolated rural village in Northern China, Inspector Lu is set on solving the case, which encompasses many dark turns.
As a crime-scene thriller City of Ice has to be up there with The Bone Collector in terms of both suspense and adrenaline. Equally, it also possesses its fair share of gruesome activities and mysterious detectives.
However, Inspector Lu has been transferred from his prominent job to a small rural village; for reasons later told. This serves to put a chip on his shoulder when he needs to cross paths with old colleagues and stingy bosses.
Working predominantly alone, Lu often frequents the local bar, The Red Lotus, where he’s beginning to develop an attachment for the owner YanYan. It’s in these moments that Klingborg decides to portray a more humane figure – one that’s sick of being alone yet equally knows that his job is his number one priority.
Caught between the two and only wanting to do what’s right, Lu is continuously ebbing between the two encounters.
As a protagonist, Lu works well. Sure, a lonely cop wanting to do well by his badge isn’t exactly original, but the environment in which he’s living more than makes up for it.
The China here feels energetic with day to day life. Even the Lotus Bar feels like a small place I visited when out there, with locals smoking expensive brands to impress upon others and middle-aged men drinking heavily on a weeknight.
Klingborg works incredibly well at capturing these small details that would likely go unnoticed had he not lived in China for many years himself.
Way of the General
Each chapter opens with a quotation from Mao Zedong. If you don’t know much about him, go and check out the link and then return. These quotes add gravitas to the book, weighing it in the sense of realism. It also makes it seem as if the murders have actually occurred.
These aren’t the only links to the China of old.
Lu often references Master Kong (Confucius) throughout. He’s very much seen as his guiding light through challenging situations, allowing him time to breathe and think about his next action.
The other compass in his life is YanYan, who he constantly sees in his time of thinking (and drinking).
As someone who speaks basic conversational Chinese, I appreciated the leaving in of Chinese names and places. This adds a level of authenticity to the environment, especially concerning the naming of characters.
So often, a book has its translations into full English, whereas here, writing in English to begin with gives it a slight disadvantage. Klingborg navigates this well, and the book never feels preachy or overindulgent.
As a mystery-thriller, City of Ice certainly stands up to its own. There’s plenty of suspense, and although the main protagonist is a little cliché, the rich culture and environment certainly make up for it.
This is a solid entry in a series that I look forward to reading more of Klingborg’s work in the near future.