Wednesday, May 6, 2015


I have a new book coming out in a few months. One of the things you need to do as an author these days is set up a webpage for your new book (did Agatha Christie have this job task?).

Because I write about China and political issues in general, I like to talk a little about what inspired the book, what some of the factual background is. I thought I'd share a part of my page in progress about the new book. I'll leave out the plot description, and cut right to the background, because it's fascinating stuff, and central to understanding today's China. I'm going to be adding quotes from some of the linked articles, but they are all insightful pieces, and well-worth reading.

(just as an FYI, this is Ellie's favorite meal)

If you polled Chinese citizens about the biggest problems in China, I am willing to bet that a majority will have “corruption” on their list.

(an exterior set in China's largest film studio)

Corruption is a simple word, but it carries with it a tremendous amount of freight. Corruption doesn’t just mean that certain people are getting rich because of it. Corruption also means that if you aren’t corrupt, you’re being taken advantage of by those who are.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that most Chinese believe that if you are rich and powerful, you are almost certainly corrupt.

In fact, corruption is so embedded in the system that it’s not clear China’s bureaucracy can function without it. 

(you'll also want to read this great piece, "Booze, sex, and the dark art of deal-making in China")

For these reasons, new President/CCP Chairman Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is both popular and regarded with a certain amount of cynicism in China. “Wildly extravagant” barely comes close to describing the over-the-top stashes of wealth that have been uncovered by the authorities in recent busts: Hundreds of millions of yuan (that’s tens of millions of dollars). Scores of houses. A solid gold statue of Mao Zedong. Jewelry, liquor and boats. But many suspect that these investigations are largely selective in nature, targeted at officials who opposed Xi Jinping and his power base. Indeed, when political rival Bo Xilai was prosecuted for corruption, some cynical Chinese netizens remarked that if this is all they've got— most of the case against Bo was made on kickbacks and bribes of a sort that are standard operating procedure for officials—Bo hardly rises to the level of corrupt village headman, especially when compared to the millions or billions that the family of former Premier Wen Jiabao made during his years in power.

And of course, current president Xi Jinping has his own alliances with billionaires

I couldn’t resist dealing with some of these issues for the third book in the Ellie McEnroe trilogy, “Dragon Day.” It seemed like a logical topic to explore. Ellie’s path in the books has taken her from crashing in a dumpy apartment and working under the table at a bar, to alliances with some of China’s rich and powerful. But those kinds of alliances carry risks. 
Qi hu nan xia. Once you start riding a tiger, it can be to dismount. 

I was originally inspired by the bizarre case of Neil Heywood, a murdered British “fixer” with connections to one of China’s most powerful political figures before his fall from power, Bo Xilai. Bo Xilai came from Red royalty, the son of a prominent revolutionary family. Like many such sons, he was a teenage Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, at times on the losing end of factional struggles. His family and current President Xi Jinping’s family have ties and grievances going back decades. It’s a fascinating story that says a lot about the structure of modern Chinese leadership, and if you’d like to learn more, I suggest John Garnaut’s short but very informative book, “The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo.” 

As the Neil Heywood case ballooned into an ever expanding maelstrom of scandal that ultimately helped take down Bo Xilai (I wrote a quick explainer of the case here), I decided I couldn’t really use a fictional version of it for the Ellie book. It was too big, too specific and too weird. (Seriously, go to that link above to get an idea of just how strange it is. The comments on the piece add a lot to the conversation) But the case of Neil Heywood and Bo Xilai did give me some assurance that nothing I could make up would be as improbable as the truth.

Lisa…every other Wednesday...


  1. Hmmm, I wonder why some in the new government in Greece are advocating that they have more in common with China (and Russia) than the West? It's certainly not the dim sum.

  2. Jeff, you are trying to tempt me into saying the sum of this report is dim indeed. But I am going to talk to Lisa instead.
    Lisa, there is only one glimmer of good news in all of this and it is a very bright one for me. I'll be able to read that next book in a few months. HOOORAY! Please say you will be at Bouchercon to sign one for me.

  3. Hah! I snagged my signed copy at LCC. THAT'S what you guys missed by not being there! (I'm not entirely sure what you WROTE when you signed it, Lisa, but it WAS at dinner and a certain amount of alcohol had been consumed... maybe one of these days I'll scan it in and email it to you for a translation. :-) )

    1. Salt in my wounds from you, EvKa? I can get over the fact that you tall. But cruel? BOOHOO!

    2. Well, you can take comfort in the fact that I haven't READ it yet. I still have to read the second one first, so to speak. Hour of the Rat is at the top of my TBR stack.

  4. Annamaria, I so want to come to Bouchercon, but I just don't know if I will be able to this time. I should have a better idea in a month or so. Fingers crossed!

    If not, Left Coast Crime???

    Everett, hope you enjoy!