The third in the Detective Inspector Chen fantasy series.

Publication year: 2006
Page count: 351 + an excerpt from the next book, the Shadow Pavilion
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Format: Print

Pin H’siao is chorus boy at Singapore Three’s Opera house and he’s very unhappy. He’s poor and trying to get clients through his work. One of his coworkers gave him his unfortunate nickname Pin H’siao, the Flute Player, and the others joke that he’s attracting mostly male clients. In a really upscale party, he notices that one of the Opera performers is missing and where she was last seen, there are only a few drops of blood. Detective Inspector Chen and his demon partner investigate the matter. Later, he’s invited to another party but instead of the quick work, he finds out that he’s taking part of a séance. Then, his spirit possesses a demon who is still in Hell.

Mrs. Pa is an elderly cleaning lady. Her fondest wish is finally coming true: her daughter is getting married. However, her daughter Mai died of illness when she was three years old and because of corruption in the system she ended up in Hell. She grew up there and is now marrying a man who is also dead. Only two weeks after the wedding, Mai phones her mother that she has a grandson and that Mrs. Pa will have to take care of him. Mrs. Pa is bewildered but agrees. She goes on a dream journey to another city and brings back with her the little boy who she names Precious Dragon. Even though Precious Dragon looks like a little boy, he talks more like a middle aged man and he clearly knows more than a boy. Also, he has a mysterious pearl which he has to keep in his mouth or he stars to choke. Soon after the boy comes to Mrs. Pa’s small house, a demon attacks them.

After sleeping for several decades the sea dragon Embar Dea is swimming again.

Detective Inspector Chen’s superior Sung is pleased with the way that Chen and the demon Senechal Zhu Irzh are working together. So, the mayor has suggested that there should be more co-operation between the three realms (Earth, Hell, and Heaven). And hapless Chen is supposed to take charge of it. Half a day after Chen first hears about the equal opportunity policy, he’s saddled with Miss Qi from Heaven and leading a fact-finding mission to Hell. Chen, Miss Qi, and Zhu Irzh are going to be honored guests in the Ministry of War. Chen is very suspicious of the whole thing but has no choice but to do it. Meanwhile, Zhu Irzh has returns to Hell just in time to attend his mother’s birthday party.

I really enjoy the way that mythology comes alive in this series. Heaven and Hell are based on Chinese mythology and only people who believe in this religion goes to this afterlife. Other religions have other afterlives. We see far more of Hell this time than Heaven and in this world, Heaven seems to be pretty dull, in any case.

Chen the very model of a honorable policeman. He tries his best to do the right thing which isn’t easy in this world. He’s constantly overshadowed by his interesting supporting cast. The scheming Zhu Irzh who still ends up being a loyal friend to Chen, at least as long as his own ass isn’t on the line. Zhu Irzh’s girlfriend, the industrialist Jhai Tserai is another one who is out to get as much for herself as possible.

Mrs. Pa and Pin are more tragic figures. Both are poor and don’t have many choices in their lives. Mrs. Pa does her best to protect and care for her strange grandson. She’s also proud of her work and thinks that cleaning a place makes order out of chaos. Pin isn’t happy about his life in prostitution but he doesn’t see a way out of it.

Miss Qi seems to be a demure young woman who constantly belittles herself and her skills. However, she’s not what she appears to be.

Most of the book is set in Hell where Miss Qi, Chen, and Zhu Irzh are guests of the Ministry of War. Then the Ministry of Lust makes its move and things start rolling at an escalating pace. The demons scheme and plot happily, and suck the trio, too, into their plots.

It was interesting to see Zhu Irzh’s family: his mother and sister and brother-in-law. He doesn’t get along with any of them and it’s easy to see why he would prefer to stay on Earth.

Another great addition to the series which will change the setting more than the previous books, so I’m very interested to see where the series will go next.