Firemaker – Peter May

A while ago our shop reading group chose a Peter May novel, The Blackhouse. We were looking for a good, solid crime novel and the fact that the book was part of our (hugely successful) #BuyBooksforSyria campaign was a bonus. It was one of our more popular picks as, in my recollection, we all enjoyed the combination of gruesome crime and bleakly beautiful setting. The gaelic names, both people and places, gave me a little bit of a problem but that was part of the fun to be honest. I’ve also added the Hebrides to my list of ‘places I’d like to visit’ – for the scenery, obviously, rather than the chance to get mixed up in a complicated crime drama…I picked up The Firemaker, the first in the reissued China Thrillers series by Peter May, because I was interested to see how May would deal with a setting which is less familiar to him than his native Hebridean islands. There was an obvious danger that I’d be adding Beijing to my bucket list but I thought it was worth the risk.

firemakerI can start off by saying that I did enjoy the story – Margaret Campbell, a forensic pathologist, travels to China to spend six weeks teaching at a Chinese policing college and also to escape from her disastrous personal life back home in Chicago. She meets newly promoted Beijing detective Li Yan and together they investigate a series of murders which lead to the very highest of places. There are plenty of twists and turns, you get to really understand the emotional lives of both characters and, I think, you learn quite a lot about the differences between life in China and the West. Generally, a successful crime novel. However, there was a sort of romance element to the book, with a developing relationship between Margaret and Li Yan, which didn’t quite work for me. It wasn’t awful but I was slightly irritated by some aspects of it. I’m not sure I can even put my finger on what the problem was – it just didn’t quite gel for me – and hope that the relationship develops over the course of the next few novels featuring the pair. My only other issue was that I found some of the dialogue, in the mouths of the Chinese characters, a little cringeworthy. I can see that they need to reflect the level of English spoken by the characters but it did just sound a little bit like Ting Tong from Little Britain…

That said I can certainly recommend this book. If you like your crime novels to have a fast pace, lots of (fairly) plausible science and interesting settings then this will probably suit you. If you enjoy trying to work out which of the minor characters is going to be killed off despite how much we know of their background and how much they are loved or respected by the heroes then that’s a bonus for you! I’m probably not going to be planning a trip to China any time soon but if the next volume in this series came my way I’d pick it up…

Jane

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