Find me online!

twittergoogle plusemail

August 21, 2013

Book Reviews - Detective Inspector Chen series by Liz Williams

A couple of weeks ago, in my review of Tad Williams' The Dirty Streets of Heaven, I mentioned Liz Williams (no relation) and her Detective Inspector Chen series of books. Like Williams' novel, these books are unique takes on the whole Heaven/Hell concept.

I've only read two of the five novels in the series so far, but I will be rectifying that in the near future.

The first book in the series, Snake Agent, introduces us to Inspector Chen and lays out the entire concept that the series is based on.

Since I summed it up in my review of the book, I'll just quote from Curled Up With a Good Book:
"Chen lives in Singapore Three sometime in the relatively near future (it’s never said, but I’m thinking the late 2000s). The barriers between Heaven, Hell, and the “real” world are thin, and they all have to deal with each other. Chen is one of the only cops in Singapore Three who deals regularly with the celestial beings, and his colleagues tend to avoid him because he’s had to deal with Hell too often. This time, the ghost of a murdered girl doesn’t arrive in Heaven as it’s supposed to, and the grieving mother comes to Chen to investigate why. Seneschal Zhu Irzh is a demon on Hell’s Vice Squad, and he’s tasked with tracking down an escaped dead prostitute from one of Hell’s brothels. With both of them pulling at the same dead soul, conflict is inevitable, but they might end up working together to stop an even bigger conspiracy from one of Hell’s highest, and most sinister, ministries - one that will combine demonic power and modern technology to wipe out millions."
It's this intriguing aspect of "Heaven & Hell as bureaucracy" that I have always found interesting. Anybody who's dealt with a bureaucracy knows that it is particularly hellish.

Williams' brilliant imagination comes up with things like the Night Harbor, a place where souls go when the people die, a processing area where it's determined where they go. There are no advocates like in Tad Williams' series, but instead it's, yes, more bureaucracy.

In fact, Williams' imaginative descriptions is one thing that makes the series stand out. You really feel like you're in the heat of Singapore (whether it's due to the proximity to Hell, global warming, or just its regular climate, I don't know). You feel the oppressive atmosphere even as you're enjoying the wonderful characterization she provides.

Chen and Zhu Irzh have a great relationship that begins in Snake Agent and continues to develop in the second novel, The Demon and the City. Zhu Irzh is not your typical demon, though he can at times be very typical. He has the usual lusts and other demonic aspects, but he does have a few "morals" that move beyond the typical Hellish character traits. He's frustrated by Hell's bureaucracy, and (at least in the first novel) he keeps getting his extremely stylish coat all messed up. And he hates that. The combination of drama and humour in the novels is very well-done.

The humour can sometimes bleed over into the narrative too. Passages can make you literally stop and laugh for a moment, and they aren't even moments of character by-play.

In The Demon in the City, for example, there's this gem, where a minor character's mother's spirit has joined him. She's a woman who could almost literally talk your ear off when she was alive, and things haven't really changed.
"Paravang thought that it was a good thing that his mother was already dead, because otherwise he would surely have slain her. She had now been a resident at his little apartment for a day and the fact that she no longer needed to draw breath was severely evident."
Yes, both books had the occasional slow spots that brought them down from full 5-star reviews, but both books were tremendously enjoyable. I have really fallen behind by not reading more of the series to see how they develop.

The basic plot for Snake Agent is above, but here's my summary of The Demon and the City from Curled Up With a Good Book:
"The demon Zhu Irzh, recently re-assigned from Hell to be Chen’s partner on the Singapore Three police force, is having a difficult time of it. He’s bored, he’s lonely, and Chen has gone off to Hawaii with his demon wife for a much-needed vacation. Thus, he’s has to deal with the police bureaucracy and anti-demon prejudice without Chen’s interference. When a murdered renegade heiress turns up, he’s chomping at the bit to begin the investigation that leads to the beautiful head of an extremely powerful drug manufacturing company, Jhai Teserai, a woman who holds many secrets of her own. Intrigued, Zhu Irzh finds her irresistible despite the fact that she might be implicated in the whole thing. Is this part of some sinister plan from Hell to further influence the “real” world, or is something more Heavenly involved? What will Teserai’s questionable experiments unleash - and will Chen return in time to save Zhu Irzh from himself?"
I think it's this mixture of science fiction and fantasy that makes the whole series attractive.

Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments! And check out the two reviews as well.

Also, it appears that now's your chance to pick them up. According to Amazon, both books are being republished in September!


Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.