When the fourteen-year-old daughter of Singapore Three’s most prominent industrialist dies of anorexia, her parents assume that Pearl’s suffering has come to an end. But somewhere along the way to the Celestial Shores, Pearl’s soul is waylaid, lured by an unknown force to the gates of Hell. To save their daughter from eternal banishment, they come to Detective Inspector Wei Chen, whose jurisdiction lies between this world and the next.
A round-faced cop who is as serious as his beat is strange, Chen has a demon for a wife and a comfort with the supernatural that most mortals cannot match. But finding Pearl Tang will take him further into the abyss than ever before—to a mystifying place where he will have to cooperate with a demonic detective if he wants to survive. It’s easy, Chen will find, to get into Hell. The hard part is getting out.
Snake Agent is the first of the five Detective Inspector Chen Novels, which continue with The Demon and the City and Precious Dragon.
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The Snake Agent
A Detective Inspector Chen Novel
By Liz Williams
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 Liz Williams
All rights reserved.
Earth One Week Earlier
Detective Inspector Chen brushed aside the chaos on his desk and carefully lit a single stick of scarlet incense. Smoke spiraled up into the air, contributing to the brown smear that marked the ceiling like a bloodstain immediately above Chen's desk and adding to the heat of the city outside. The air conditioning had failed again, a lamentably regular occurrence in the steamy South China summer. Chen bent his head in a brief prayer, then picked up the photograph and held it over the stream of smoke. The girl's face appeared by degrees, manifesting out of a dark background. She was standing in the doorway of a go-down, gazing fearfully over her shoulder. Her hair was still scraped back into its funeral braids, and her white face gleamed out of the shadows like the ghost she was. Studying the photo, and the expression on the girl's face, Chen was aware of the sudden hot glow of rage in his heart. How many more young women might have gone the same way after their deaths, unnoticed and unmourned? But whoever was behind all this had made a mistake this time, choosing the daughter of Singapore Three's premier industrialist rather than some nameless prostitute. Chen held the photograph out to the woman sitting on the other side of the desk and said gently, "Let's begin at the beginning, Mrs Tang. Are you sure that this is your daughter?"
Mrs Tang's grip tightened around the handle of her Miucci handbag as she studied the photograph. In a little whispery voice she said, "Yes. Yes, that's Pearl."
"Now, you say someone sent this to you?"
"Yesterday. I didn't go out of the house, and I'm sure no one came in—it was the servants' afternoon off. But when I walked into the living room, the photo was sitting on the bureau. In a red envelope. I didn't know what it was at first. There was a note, telling me what to do." She gestured towards the spiraling incense. "You can see her face for a little while, but then it fades again."
"And did you notice anything—strange? Apart from the envelope?"
Mrs Tang moistened dry lips. "There was some ash. Like dust. At first I thought the maid hadn't been cleaning properly, but it was white and soft. Like incense ash."
"I see. Mrs Tang, I know how hard this is for you, but at least we have a lead. You must try and be hopeful."
Mrs Tang's face began to crumple.
"You will find her, won't you?"
Reaching across, Chen patted her hand. "Don't worry. We'll find your daughter, and we'll make absolutely sure that this time she completes her journey to the afterlife." He did his best to sound reassuring.
"Thank you," Mrs Tang murmured. She pushed her expensive sunglasses to the top of her head and rubbed her eyes; they were rimmed with redness. "I'd better go. I couldn't tell my husband I was coming here; he'd be furious if he knew I'd gone to the police. I told him I was going shopping."
Chen sighed. This was an added complication, but hardly an unfamiliar one. "Is there anything you can do to change your husband's mind?"
"I don't think so. H'suen's a hard man to talk to sometimes. I've tried discussing it with him, but he won't listen." Mrs Tang gave a brittle, bitter smile. "He says it doesn't make any difference; Pearl's dead and that's that. You see, he adored Pearl. At first, anyway. She was such a sweet little girl, but then she started growing up. I mean, she was always a— well, she was a lovely, lovely girl, but she could be a little bit difficult. Willful. She was fourteen, and I used to say to him: 'What do you expect these days?' They all go out with boys, and Pearl was very popular. He used to get so angry And then he found out that she'd been charging money for what she did and of course he was furious, we both were, but I said Pearl needed help, not scolding And I think her eating problems started around then "
She seemed to have forgotten that she had been on the point of leaving. Patiently, Chen listened as she talked, building up a picture of the dead girl. Disobedience, anorexia, promiscuity and what amounted to prostitution did not make a pretty picture, but Chen said nothing. Years of police work had taught him that sympathy won more confidences than judgment, and anyway, it came more naturally. Chen didn't feel that he was in any position to judge anyone else, certainly not these days. He sat gazing at Mrs Tang, making sympathetic noises while she rambled on about her daughter, and occasionally handing her a tissue to dry her eyes. Yet despite the tears, Chen was increasingly beginning to feel that there was something not quite right about this exhibition of maternal consideration. It was a little too artless, a little too staged. He could smell a lie, somewhere, like the stink of rotting meat beneath spice, but he did not yet know where it lay. Perhaps it related to nothing more than guilt over the peculiar combination of self-indulgence and neglect that the rich habitually displayed towards their offspring, perhaps to something darker. What had driven the fourteen-year-old daughter of one of the city's most privileged households not only to provide sexual services, but to seek payment for them? Chen mentally ran through possibilities with the hard-won objectivity of a man who has seen much to revolt him. At last Mrs Tang wiped her eyes and said, "You've been very kind, Detective Inspector. I know you'll do your best in finding Pearl." She looked momentarily embarrassed, as though she'd said too much. She leaned forwards, peering curiously at the framed photograph that sat on Chen's desk. "Oh, she's pretty. Is she your wife?"
"That's right." Once again, Chen cursed the impulse that had led him to place Inari's photo on the desk. Everyone noticed it and this was a problem, but it made his job easier, somehow, if he could glance at her face occasionally. He should just keep a picture in his wallet—but that made him feel as though he was shaming her somehow.
"What's her name? She looks Japanese."
"She's called Inari." Chen shifted impatiently in his chair. He got the impression that Mrs Tang was delaying her return home, but then again, it didn't sound as though she had a lot to look forward to.
Mrs Tang said, "She's lovely, even behind those big sunglasses. Is she a model? You know, my sister runs an agency and she's always looking for people. If you like, I could take your wife's number."
Chen said hastily, "I think maybe not. It's very flattering, but actually Inari doesn't really like going out all that much and—anyway, thank you."
"What a pity. She really is beautiful."
Chen allowed himself a small, smug smile, then stifled it. It didn't do to dwell too much on his marital luck.
"I'm very fortunate," he murmured. Mrs Tang sighed, no doubt thinking of her own lack of fortune in that department.
"I really should go now," she said reluctantly, and rose from her chair.
Chen saw her to the door of the precinct, then made his way slowly to the vending machine. Sergeant Ma was bending over it, thumping the side with an immense fist.
"Damn machine's not working again. I—oh." He stood hastily back as he saw who it was.
"Take your time," Chen said politely.
"No no no no no. It's quite all right. It's all yours," Ma muttered, and made a rapid, waddling exit in the direction of the canteen. With a resigned sigh, Chen managed to extract a paper cup of green tea from the machine, and carried it back to his desk. As he turned the corner, he saw that Sergeant Ma had come back and was surreptitiously waving a blessing paper over the vending machine. Chen was used to being a pariah, but some days his colleagues' aversion to him got him down. He sipped his scalding, tasteless tea and contemplated the girl's photograph for a few moments longer, then collected his jacket from the back of his chair and left the precinct.
It was only the beginning of summer, but already the heat had built to oppressive levels. Despite the heat of the precinct, stepping out onto Jiang Mi Road was like diving into a warm bath. Chen glanced at the pollution meter on a nearby wall, but the results were too depressing to take seriously. He walked slowly down towards the harbor, lost in thought. By the time he reached the edge of the typhoon shelter, the weather had grown a little cooler. There was a storm building out over the South China Sea, and the air tasted of lightning and rain. Chen smiled, picturing Inari resting her elbows on the windowsill of the houseboat, waiting for the thunder to break. His wife loved storms; she had once told him that they reminded her of her home. The only good thing about the place, she had added bitterly. The ferry terminal lay a short distance along the quay, and Chen sat down on the bench to wait. Someone had left a newspaper, and he picked it up, beginning idly to read. Singapore was opening yet another franchise city, this time along the Myanmar coast. Chen could remember a time when Singapore Three was the last in the franchise line; this new development would be the sixth city. Chen read on, learning that this version of Singapore would be developed along the same lines as all the others, and he smiled again, fancifully imagining another Detective Chen sitting on an identical ferry terminal bench, several thousand miles to the south.
A distant humming interrupted his thoughts and he looked up to see the wallowing shape of the ferry as it approached the terminal. Fifteen minutes later Chen stepped off at the opposite dock and into the labyrinth of streets that constituted Zhen Shu Island.
This was a rough area, and Chen walked warily, but no one bothered him. He supposed that he was anonymous enough: a middle-aged man wearing unfashionable indigo clothes. But occasionally he would see someone start and shy away, and realize that he, or at least the aura of his profession, had been recognized. No one liked policemen, and cops who were in league with Hell were doubly unwelcome. So Chen walked unmolested through the narrow streets of Zhen Shu until he found himself standing in front of Su Lo Ling's Funeral Parlor.
Unlike the neighboring shops, the funeral parlor was a magnificent building. A black faux-marble facade boasted gilded columns on either side of the door, and red lanterns hung from the gable in a gaudy, tasteless display. This was hardly inappropriate, Chen reflected, given the number of citizens who met their end in a similar manner. A narrow alleyway ran along one side, leading further into the maze of Zhen Shu. The sign on the door proclaimed that the funeral parlor was closed. Undeterred, Chen kept his finger on the bell until blinds twitched from the shops on either side. Over the insistent jangling of the doorbell, he could hear footsteps hastening down the hall. The door was flung open to reveal a short, stout gentleman in a long, red robe.
"What do you want? This is a place of rest, not some kind of—oh." His eyes widened. Chen never knew how people could tell; it must be something behind his eyes, some inner darkness that revealed his close association with the worlds beyond the world. When younger he had spent hours peering into the mirror, trying to detect what it was that made people so afraid, but even to himself his round, ordinary face seemed as bland and inexpressive as the moon. Perhaps this very impassiveness was what unnerved others.
"I'm sorry," the stout man said in more conciliatory tones. "I didn't realize."
Chen displayed his badge. "Franchise Police Department. Precinct Thirteen. Detective Inspector Chen. Do you mind if I come in? I'd like to ask you a few questions."
With many protestations of the honor done to the establishment, the stout man ushered Chen inside. The interior of the funeral parlor was as ostentatious as the facade. Chen was shown into a long, mirrored room with a scarlet rug. Carp floated in a wall-length tank at the far end of the room, their reflections drifting to infinity in the multiple mirrors. The stout man clapped his hands, twice, summoning a small, wan maid.
"Tea?" whispered the maid.
"Thanks. What sort do you have?"
The maid closed her eyes for a moment and recited:
"Jade Dragon Oolong; Peach and Ginseng; Gunpowder Black " She rattled through a list of some fifteen teas before Chen could stop her. Evidently the funeral parlor was not short of funds.
"I'll have any of the oolongs. Thank you."
"Now, Detective Inspector." The stout owner of the funeral parlor settled himself into a nearby armchair. "I am Su Lo Ling, the proprietor of this establishment. What can we do to help?"
"I understand you handled the funeral arrangements for a ceremony a week ago, for a girl named Pearl Tang. The daughter of someone who needs no introduction from me."
"Indeed, indeed. So very sad. Such a young woman. Anorexia is a most tragic condition. It just goes to show," and here Mr Ling shook his head philosophically, "that not even the materially blessed among us may attain true happiness."
"How very wise. Forgive me for asking such a delicate question, but were there any—irregularities—with the funeral?"
"None whatsoever. You must understand, Detective Inspector, that we are a very old firm. The Lings have been in the funeral business since the seventeenth century, in what was then Peking, before I moved the business here. Our connections with the relevant authorities are ancient. There have never been any difficulties with the paperwork." A small pause. "Might I ask why you pose such a question?"
"Your establishment does indeed possess a most honorable reputation," Chen said. "However, I fear that an irregularity—doubtless nothing to do with the manner in which Pearl's funeral was handled—has nonetheless occurred."
"Oh?" There was the faintest flicker of unease in Ling's face, which Chen noted.
"You see, it appears that the young lady in question did not in fact reach the Celestial Shores. A ghost-photograph of her has been taken, revealing her current whereabouts to be somewhere in the port area of Hell."
Ling's mouth sagged open in shock.
"In Hell? But the payments were made, the sacrifices impeccably ordered I don't understand."
"Neither does her mother."
"The poor woman must be distraught."
"She is naturally concerned that the spirit of her only child is not now reclining among the peach orchards of Heaven, but currently appears to be wandering around a region best described as dodgy," Chen said.
"I'll show you the paperwork. I'll go and get it now."
Together, Ling and Chen pored over the documents. To Chen's experienced eyes, everything seemed to be in order: the immigration visa with the Celestial authorities, the docking fees of the ghost-boat, the license of passage across the Sea of Night. He felt sure that the explanation for Pearl's manifestation in the infernal realms could be traced back to Ling, but the parlor owner's round face was a paradigm of bland concern.
"Well," Chen said at last. "This is indeed a tragedy, but I can see nothing here that is at all irregular. I realize that you operate a policy of strict confidentiality, but if you should happen to hear anything—"
"Your august ears will be the first to know," Ling assured him, and with innumerable expressions of mutual gratitude, Chen departed.
He returned to the precinct, intending to make some additions to his report, but on arrival he was summoned to the office of the precinct captain. Sung eyed him warily as he stepped through the door. Captain Su Sung looked more like one of Genghis Khan's descendants than ever, Chen reflected. Sung's family was Uighur, from the far west of China, and he was known to be proud of the fact. A subtle man, Chen reflected, a man who looked like everyone's notion of a barbarian and capitalized upon it to hide a quick intelligence.
"Afternoon, Detective Inspector," Sung said now, with civility.
"Good afternoon, sir," Chen said with equal politeness.
"H'suen Tang's wife has been to see you." It was a statement rather than a question.
"That's right. This morning. Her daughter's gone missing."
"And her daughter's already dead, right?"
"That's correct, sir."
Excerpted from The Snake Agent by Liz Williams. Copyright © 2005 Liz Williams. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked this book because it's different from the myriads of urban fantasy novels I've read in the past. It's different because it contains Eastern mythology, mysticism and religions. The setting takes place in Singapore (which earns bonus points from me, as this is the first book I've read with a setting there). Also, the story line is very dark, noir and very gritty. It's an interesting blend of fantasy and science fiction and by putting to two together gives you a unique world. I also thought it was interesting how characters can travel from hell, to Singapore, and back again. The plot itself is interesting. There's a lot of twists and turns and as Wei Chen investigates further into the mystery, he realizes there's more to it than just soul trafficking. There's also the second plot which involves Zhu Irzh and his case which takes place in Hell. I liked his plot more, as it had an element of intrigue and explained in detail the hierarchy of Demon politics and how they relate to one another. Zhu Irzh also provides the comic relief. Unlike Chen, his approach is more laid back and he provides a witty comeback every so often. It's a well written plot and interesting enough to keep you reading. The action is good and makes the pace go faster, not to mention the sub plot involving Inari was also really interesting as well. I especially liked the overall tone of the story. It's really dark and has a very 'noir' feel to it. The setting descriptions add more to the tone of the book - especially describing the humidity and heat in the city. It added more to the feeling of the story and takes the reader to the setting. So, it's like you're there following the characters. It's a great start to what looks like a really good series and I'm definitely going to continue reading it. It shows great promise and it looks like things could go really complicated with Chen and Zhu Irzh. I do recommend this to those that love Harry Dresden, and Felix Castor, but with an Asian setting and with a much more dark and grittier tone. Fans of urban fantasy should also get a good read out of this book.
The "old" is the rich and colorful use of Asian myth and religion in this smooth and easy read. The "new" is also the Asian myth in this very different take on the very popular modern fantasy genre. Detective Chen is a great hero, flawed and full of self doubt. His partner Zhu Irzh, a demon "vice cop" from hell with his own set of issues plays great as the concepts of "good and evil" are dismantled and rearranged. Looking forward to the rest of the series. Maybe as Nook books? Maybe? Hint, hint....
In a mystery steeped in Chinese mythology, Detective Inspector Chen Wei is the go to guy for all things supernatural in the Singapore police department. Shunned by his colleagues, he is used to working alone. Still, he must work with someone, and Sergeant Ma was unlucky enough to be assigned to do the job. Mrs. Tang has come to Chen with a ghost photo of her daughter, Pearl, who had died and should have been frolicking in Heaven. Instead, she was a ghost, lost somewhere in limbo. Could Mrs. Tang's industrialist husband be involved? That is what Chen must figure out, but before he can even begin, Tang calls Chen with disturbing news. When he arrives at their mansion, Chen finds that Mrs. Tang has been possessed, and in spite of the department's exorcist, she doesn't survive the possession. Chen does meet Seneschal Zhu Izu, one of Hell's vice officers. Unfortunately, Chen's wife, the beautiful Inari, who is a fugitive from Hell, has now become tired of hiding on their houseboat. She has been exploring the markets with her faithful badger/teakettle. With each adventure, she risks being identified as a demon b the humans around her or worse by another demon. In fact, Chen helped her escape her unwanted arranged marriage with a high official in the Department of Epidemics bringing retribution and shame upon her family. In the meantime, one of Zhu Izu's patrons, the first minister of the Department of Wealth, Chen's relationship with his patron, the Goddess Kuan Yin is strained at the best. A man fully committed to his wife and work, Chen will follow all leads to their conclusion. He finds that he must follow the clues to Hell, a good thing, because his wife has been kidnapped to Hell by her once fiancé. How Chen and Zhu Izu ferret the extent of the conspiracy, how Inari finds compassion and self-sacrifice and thus gains maturity, is a story worth reading. Williams created complex societies with complex characters who you either love or hate and tells a story in this rich back drop worth reading. Five stars!
Interesting premise, but it didn't hold my interest.
Book jacket describes it as John Constantine meets Chow Yun Fat. I think that says it all. This is book 1 of 4 in the series. Detective Inspector Chen is a snake agent. He investigates cases that have supernatural or mystical origins. His latest case starts out investigating the disappearance of a young girl¿s ghost. Aided by Seneschal Zhu Irzh, a demon vice cop from Hell, Chen journeys to the depths of Hell itself to solve the mystery.
I liked this book because it¿s different from the myriads of urban fantasy novels I¿ve read in the past. It¿s different because it contains Eastern mythology, mysticism and religions. The setting takes place in Singapore (which earns bonus points from me, as this is the first book I¿ve read with a setting there). Also, the story line is very dark, noir and very gritty. It¿s an interesting blend of fantasy and science fiction and by putting to two together gives you a unique world. I also thought it was interesting how characters can travel from hell, to Singapore, and back again. The plot itself is interesting. There¿s a lot of twists and turns and as Wei Chen investigates further into the mystery, he realizes there¿s more to it than just soul trafficking. There¿s also the second plot which involves Zhu Irzh and his case which takes place in Hell. I liked his plot more, as it had an element of intrigue and explained in detail the hierarchy of Demon politics and how they relate to one another. Zhu Irzh also provides the comic relief. Unlike Chen, his approach is more laid back and he provides a witty comeback every so often. It¿s a well written plot and interesting enough to keep you reading. The action is good and makes the pace go faster, not to mention the sub plot involving Inari was also really interesting as well. I especially liked the overall tone of the story. It¿s really dark and has a very `noir¿ feel to it. The setting descriptions add more to the tone of the book - especially describing the humidity and heat in the city. It added more to the feeling of the story and takes the reader to the setting. So, it¿s like you¿re there following the characters. It¿s a great start to what looks like a really good series and I¿m definitely going to continue reading it. It shows great promise and it looks like things could go really complicated with Chen and Zhu Irzh. I do recommend this to those that love Harry Dresden, and Felix Castor, but with an Asian setting and with a much more dark and grittier tone. Fans of urban fantasy should also get a good read out of this book.
Detective Inspector Chen of Singapore Three has a special assignment: deal with problems arising from Hell. In this high-tech future, email and other innovations make communicating with Heaven and Hell much easier. Chen has personal troubles: abandoned by his goddess for taking a demon as his bride, Chen (and his wife) are now the target of a powerful vendetta. But Chen does his duty when a young girl¿s ghost turns up in a brothel in Hell, rather than safely in Heaven as she was supposed to. He teams up with demon Vice cop Zhu Irzh (Vice cop meaning rather the opposite in Hell of what it means on earth) to solve the mystery. Both Hell and Singapore Three feature very traditional gender roles, which made me a bit itchy, but the combination of tech and myth was intriguing, and I will probably check out the next book in the series.
I really wanted to like this book, but unfortunately, it was only just so-so for me. I don't know if was because I wasn't in the right state of mind to appreciate it, or if it was not my kind of book.The writing was complex, not too slow, not too fast. The characters were very human. Its an odd thing to say, but most of the humans just wanted to go home to their significant other, or were concerned about the daily grind of life. And Chen, our hero, is such a sweet person. He worries so much about being good for his Goddess, but he is also willing to make the sacrifices needed to keep the love of his life. I also quite liked the demon, Zhu Irzh. He reminded me a lot like Algy, form the Importance of Being Earnest (an unusual comparison, I know). Maybe that the story seemed to go on and on forever that I felt this way about this book or maybe it was the characters names- The characters kept combining into a different person, and only half way through the story was I able to put them in the right setting. My one and only big critique is the prologue- I'd skip it completely. It doesn't really add anything to the story, and you encounter, almost word for word later in the book.
All you need to know about Snake Agent is: Bladerunner meets Bridge of Birds. If the idea of of dystopian near-future merged with the Chinese afterlife appeals to you, the book won't disappoint.Detective Inspector Chen works out of the city of Singapore 3, but he's not your usual Inspector. Chen covers the supernatural. Between the circles of Hell and the Celestial Plains, there's a lot of places a soul can go astray, and the wandering spirit of a wealthy industrialist's daughter is just the latest.Williams has done a wonderful job of world-building in Snake Agent. As reader, you feel plopped down amidst a story already in motion. Chen - and the city of Singapore 3 - have their own narratives and problems well underway by the first page. In addition to a sense of nascent possibility, it gives the book a very nice pace that rarely lets up. Indeed, this pace, coupled with Williams' affectionate and largely understated characterisation, and finally the beguiling nature of Singapore 3 and Hell, disguise a few coincidences and some raggedy plotting. Some may find it bothers them - especially a deus ex machina at the end. But personally, I found these weaknesses minor and *most* of the plotting is definitely up to scratch. But really, the pleasure of Snake Agent is in the world Williams creates, and her weary, jaded - and surprisingly funny - characters. There's a jovial humour running through the novel that rarely breaks out into jokes but maintains a nice sense of the inherent insanity of the Chinese Afterlife and the fervid pace of life in Singapore 3. Ultimately, Snake Agent is a great introduction to a fabulous and potential-filled setting. Satisfying in its own right, at the conclusion I nonetheless wanted more time with these people and their realms. Looking forward to the rest of the series.
Got this on bookmooch and I'm really liking it so far other than the occasional modern element connected with the spiritual elements (like sending the government in hell an e-mail).This was a fun romp through hell with a well developed comological scheme. It's funny because it was a dark plot but never seemed to get too serious or disturbing. It was more like an action adventure novel than anything deep. The characters and magic were interesting though.
I love the world creation and the characters in this book, but was annoyed by the plot. Now, it might just be me, but it seemed like "coincidence" played too big a role in the book. [Spoiler]For instance, when Inari is rescued by the mysterious monk woman, who later turns out to be the Goddess of Plague. First of all, that was very lucky. Secondly, why the heck would the Goddess of Plague care about Inari at all? It just doesn't make sense.I would have liked to see Chen make his own luck more often, but it seemed like there was a lot of "he is stuck in an awful predicament when someone/something arrives to save him."Still, I have to say that the combination of chinese fantasy with SF is pretty fun. I just wish that I had been able to invest more in the story.
Really enjoyable setting, plus a talking badger. What's not to like?Ok, so there were some coincidences, but it was a terrific tale.It does leave me really looking forward to the next book in the series...
The setting is A Singapore of the future: Singapore III (There are 5-6 I think.) The protagonist is Detective Inspector Chen who is currently not-so-favored by his patron goddess Kuan Yin because he went against her wishes and married a demon woman. Being that this focuses on the Asian style of bureaucratic heaven and hell, it has come to the attention of several authorities that souls are ending up where they shouldn't be. Chen is sent to investigate, and along the way, picks up a demon adjunct who helps his investigation.I will add that Snake Agent (and sequels) are one of the few Chinese themed English language books I've read that is written by a Westerner that manages to bypass some of the "exotic orient" pits that tends to leave me with a strong sense of distaste. Williams avoids the 'suffering women' Joy Luck Club tones, the 'crazy/exotic/totalitarian/dominating orientals!', or any Confucious-style speech patterns that set my teeth on edge. Any passive traditional women also have their own Asian brand of strength that often gets ignored in stories. There isn't a single samurai sword in sight! No Way Of The Warrior!This is a story about persons in a futuristic alternate Singapore, dealing with non-Western mythologies in a straight and authentic manner.The fact that this book exists at all has me curling my toes. The fact that it's an engaging and well written story has me ecstatic. I'm in love with Chen and the Demon-- Irhz(?) and their interactions/chemistry.
Initially, I chose Snake Agent because of the cover. It's a fantastic image and reveals more detail as you look into it. I was hoping that the contents would live up to the jacket.It took me a little while to get into the setting, which is very different from either the modern western setting of most Urban Fantasy or the pseudo-medieval setting of heroic fantasy. It does grow on you, though, and the book is very atmospheric. Williams stays away from the temptation to make Inspector Chen a martial arts expert or to endow him with magical powers. Instead, Chen relies on his charm, wit and the protection of his beliefs to preserve him against powerful foes.One of the things that I really liked was the way Williams uses humour in the book. There are some wry moments. Also, the way certain aspects of the story emerge (I'm avoiding spoilers at this point) is handled with a beautifully light and subtle touch as we gradually see deeper into Chen's complex motivations. He makes a very believable hero.I found the book a very enjoyable read, refreshingly different with both a male protagonist and an Oriental setting, well paced and full of interesting characters that lives up to the subtle splendour of its cover.It's in my list of best books of 2010.
I'm still not sure about this one. One of the comments on the cover describe it as "John Constantine meets Chow Yun-Fat" and that's not completely unfair. It's a futuristic world, a world with liquid computers (a wonderful sequence) and franchised cities but also a world where the paranormal is closer than might be comfortable, where Heaven and Hell are a few blood-drops away and the Gods animate their statues in temples.In the middle of this is Detective Inspector Chen, the Singapore Three police department snake agent, the detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. A man hiding a demon wife, and trying to keep on the good side of his patron goddess Quan Yin. He ends up helping a vice officer from Hell to investigate some illegal soul trafficking.Interesting but it somehow lacked something. I'm not completely sure what it was that it lacked. It was almost that the author had a great idea for characters but couldn't work out a great way to get them together. There were things left hanging that may be resolved in the next but might be left for a while and all in all although a good read not a great one although it did show a lot of potential to be a great read.
I just finished The Snake Agent by Liz Williams. It was ok, but for some reason it just never grabbed me. The writing was good, and the setting was interesting, I don't know if the story wasn't right or the characters were a little off.It is the first book in a new series about Detective Inspector Chen, a franchise police officer. It is set in the future where successful cities have franchised themselves. The story takes place somewhere in China on the coast in a franchise called Singapore 3. Chen is not merely a police officer, he is their supernatural liaison. So he gets any crime that involves the supernatural, the gods or goddesses, or heaven or hell ( the Chinese versions). Both places exist and are run by bureaucratic ministries. Chen is feared and avoided by his co-workers, and has a complicated personal life with a big secret. He isn't a bad character, but is rather featureless and bland - perhaps he isn't the best choice of POV.He works with a demon from Hell, Zhu Irzh, who is with the Vice Squad - they encourage it, but want to make sure all the taxes are paid. The demon is a good character, as is Chen's wife, and her servant. The story is lacking in focus - first it is a murder and then it becomes soul stealing, then it becomes a plague that some in hell are planning to unleash on humanity, then it becomes about Chen's wife who takes off, and then it becomes a chase when Chen and the Vice Cop are tracking the criminals and his wife in hell. There is a mad human demon-killer that is running around the city while Chen is away, and the whole plot involves the Bio-Web, like our internet but channeled through the brains of drugged and sleeping humans.It took me a while to finish it, the story just had no traction. Still it wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good as I was hoping for. It was billed as police procedural, SF, Comic Fantasy, and Horror all in an exotic futuristic, Far Eastern setting.I will probably try the next one, The Demon and the City, when it goes into paper, I think Zhu Irzh, is the POV for it.
Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds meets the police thriller in a near-future world where the detective handling supernatural crimes regularly phones and e-mails with colleagues and bureaucrats in Heaven and Hell.
It's nice to read a book that doesn't use Western mythology for a change. It was a little confusing at times, I'm guessing because Eastern mythology/religions aren't my thing, but it was a nice change from the usual fairy/vampire/werewolf fare. Good.
I liked this mix of modern-day setting with Chinese myth and legend a great deal. However, the folks who found it disconcerting that the initial mystery was tossed over the side in favor of a more apocalypic plot have a point. This is not to mention that it just seemed as though the book should really be a bit longer, even with the nifty little twist that Williams gives to the conclusion. Perhaps this is the downside of starting out to write what appears to be intended as an open-ended series; the author just winds up holding back developments that seem as though they organically belong to a given book.