Sampson, Catherine - 'The Slaughter Pavilion'
THE SLAUGHTER PAVILION is Sampson's fourth book, and it is set in Beijing, where she lives with her husband and children. At the start of the book, Song, an ex-policeman turned private investigator, chases after a man who seems to be about to jump to his death, with his dead daughter on his back, because the authorities have failed to investigate her death. Failing to prevent this tragedy, Song is then driven by guilt to find out more. The dead father had written a petition to Song's father-in-law to investigate his daughter's death, and the disappearance of children in his home village but nothing was done. Song's father-in-law is now in disgrace, and may even be prosecuted for other crimes. Is this another one to add to the list? Scraps of the petition found on the dead man's body were quickly confiscated, but one piece was retrieved by Song, and helps to start him off on his investigation. A university academic, whose husband is a journalist, also seems to know something about what is going on, and persuades him to head out to the village with her. But then she disappears, and it turns out she has been arrested, for putting up a copy of the petition on the web. Someone is trying to cover up what is happening to the missing children. The villagers themselves are scared that their child will be the next one to be taken, but appear powerless to protect them.
This is a book about corruption and power, the yawning divide between the wealthy and the poor, and the corruption of officials, and their attempts to hide what is really going on. Song himself is scared of what might happen to him, and to his business as a private investigator if he pursues the case, but he is determined to find out what is happening and who is behind it. It is a constant battle between his ingenuity and the power of corrupt officials to simply arrest him, lock him up and throw away the key. The descriptions of Chinese life, and the way in which the state control information, and hide corruption are well described, and surely benefit from the author's own personal knowledge of the Chinese, and their culture. This was a fascinating book that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I look forward to reading the next one.
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Michelle Peckham, England