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Saturday, July 25, 2009

“Inspector Chen Short Stories” by Liz Williams (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Liz Williams at Live Journal and at Facebook
Read FBC Interview with Ms. Williams HERE

Liz Williams has been publishing her novels since 2001 & her short stories since 1997. Her earlier books were Sci-fi books with a bit of socio-political commentary. Her short stories however were all over the place genre-wise. In 2005 she published the first book in the Inspector Chen series. This was technically her first foray into urban fantasy genre however her primary effort was not marred by newbie mistakes as she successfully combined Chinese mythology with a futuristic world & gave readers worldwide a truly unique reading experience.

The Chen series is published by Nightshade Books & has had some really fantastic covers. The books are featured in 2 editions when they are released. There is the hardcover edition & the special numbered & signed edition which also features an Inspector Chen short story as well.

I’m going to be reviewing these short stories featured in each of the 4 books in the series released up till now. Also in 2004 she released a short story collection “Banquet of the Lords of Night”, which featured 2 stories, also set in the Inspector Chen series. They will be reviewed here as well.

Here are the stories with the wonderful covers of the books containing them!


This is the story published in the special edition of "Snake Agent". It begins with Chen & Zhu inspecting a scene with a strangely murdered person & two crickets, one dead like the human, the other alive & kicking! This story deals with the underbelly of Singapore Three in the form of illegal betting on crickets fighting each other. Suffice to say it's a humorous piece & with an ending line which will draw a chuckle from many a British reader.

"And Taxes"

This is the story encased with the special edition of "Shadow Pavilion". We are again introduced to a murder but in this case of a tax collector who seemed bound to Heaven to the surprise of all present; however due to some malevolent black magic he has landed in Hell. This short story has a small twist in it which will surprise most readers & was my favorite from all of the short stories here.

"No Logo"

This is the story featured in the "The Demon and the City" special edition. It features Sergeant Ma along with Zhu & Chen & Ma makes a welcome addition to the duo. His ability to be upright & his absolute cluelessness about fashion makes this story quite funny to read. It also features sweat shop exploitation & while this might be a serious topic, Liz Williams does turn this story around on its head in the end to make it my second favorite story amongst all.

"Willow Pattern Plate"

This is the story published in "Precious Dragon" & with it there is a change in the characters featured as the focus is shifted to Inari & her demonimal "Badger". Inari has taken up art classes to make & paint plates. The plate which Inari focuses on, has a tragic love story attached to it & the art teacher Ms. Ho does seem to have an agenda of her own. Inari of course learns that all is not as it seems in the beginning & we get an unexpected ending. This story didn't draw my interest so much as the others.

"Adventures in Ghost Trade"

This story was published in "The Banquet of the Lords of Night and Other Stories" the short story collection by the author. It is the first story from the book and is actually a chapter in the first book of the series, "Snake Agent". It stands on its own, however it will make much more sense to read it in the 1st novel . It features a mother beseeching Chen to help search for her daughter as she is not to be found either in Heaven or Hell.

"The Man from the Ministry"

This story also appeared in "The Banquet of the Lords of Night and Other Stories". It is the last story from the collection & it focuses upon the various under-goings in the Inspector Chen universe namely between Heaven & Hell. It introduces Tang a young man who tries to get his mother cured of her debilitating disease. The story then veers off into Hell due to a certain past debt & in the end it also features Kuan Hin, the Goddess of compassion who was also a character in "Snake Agent" & "Precious Dragon". The story is a pleasant departure from the primary characters of the series & shows us a nice slice of the world created by Liz Williams & as always the concluding paragraph does feature Ms. Williams' sharp wit & gives a sense of completion to the reader as well.


Anonymous said...

Besides the Inspector Chen series, she also did a pseudo-victorian fantasy take on alien abduction in the novel The Poison Master. I highly recommend it as it gave me a City of Lost children vibes mixed with some "Dying Earth" or "Books of the New Sun" imagery.

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