I thought I’d give Peter May’s China series a go after reading the Lewis trilogy, which I mostly enjoyed. Unfortunately the China series is nowhere near as good, if the first book, The Firemaker is anything to go by. More of a thriller than a murder story, it is set just before the turn of this century in Beijing and features an annoying American pathologist and a Chinese policeman. The pathologist, Margaret, is on a six week secondment, running away from a recently traumatic past and hasn’t bothered to read her briefing notes. Detective Li Yan is newly promoted and after an extremely rocky introduction, reluctantly accepts Margaret’s help in the autopsy on a man found burning in a Beijing park.
May’s writing style, which could be a little florid at times in the Lewis trilogy, is much more florid here (although to May’s credit, The Firemaker was written ten years before the first Lewis book, so I guess he’s improved). The way how the relationship between Margaret and Li Yan is written is cringeworthy and I just found all the characters to be quite two dimensional. However, as in the Lewis books, May does give quite a good sense of place and culture for Beijing.
By the latter third of the book I was literally gritting my teeth to get through it because I wanted to know how it ended, I just had to get through all the bad writing to get there.It was fairly obvious as well the motive behind the killings and I wanted to yell at the characters, as they were so two dimensional, surely they should understand that the person who ‘did it’ was the big bad obnoxious guy introduced right near the beginning of the book because after all, it’s always the rule with these things, the bad guy is always someone who has already been introduced. It took ages for Margaret and Li Yan to get it and only then after it had virtually been spelt out to them by the aforementioned bad guy.
I am probably not going to read any more books from this series, although part of me is drawn, like a car crash, to see what’s going to happen next.