The Ghost Marriage
Chief Inspector Li Yan and American pathologist Margaret Campbell, heroes of Peter May’s…
The Ghost Marriage
Genre : Thriller
Chief Inspector Li Yan and American pathologist Margaret Campbell, heroes of Peter May’s best-selling China thrillers, return in a new story. A girl has disappeared in Peking, and the mystery is somehow connected to a strange marital rite from China’s past: the Minghun, or Ghost Marriage.
Winners of France’s Pix Intramuros in 2007, Peter May once again takes his readers on a powerful, fascinating exploration of modern China.
Autour de l’ouvrage :
Peter May And China
Bringing stories to life
For me, half the pleasure in reading a book, is the chance to be transported to some exotic location I might never otherwise see. As a writer I am privileged to visit such places for real. And I want my readers to see and feel and smell these places, too, so that they are with my characters every step of the way.
My researches for the first three books in the series, The Firemaker, The Fourth Sacrifice, and The Killing Room led me on several visits to China, where excellent contacts secured unprecedented access to the strange and arcane world of the Chinese justice system.
First visit to China : a crime turned TV drama
During my first visit I was guest of honour at a police banquet held in a restaurant off Tiananmen Square. My host, the charismatic Police Commissioner Wu He Ping, recounted how he had captured a gang who stole priceless artefacts to smuggle out of the country. The case became famous in China when it was made into an eight-hour TV drama, written and produced by Commissioner Wu, and starring himself −as himself.
The interpreter, clearly in awe of the Commissioner, explained that the gang members had also played themselves in the drama. I thought that I must have misunderstood, and asked for clarification. Smiling, Commissioner Wu said that they had cut some real footage of the actual thieves into the drama, but had been forced to employ actors after they had been executed.
My appetite for the deep-fried scorpions on my plate diminished further.
Commissioner Wu, however, went on to open many doors for me in China; the walled campus of Beijing University where lakes and bridges and tiny pavilions nestle in secluded tranquillity between beautiful faculty buildings; the Terracotta Warriors in situ in Xian; the Shanghai police department while researching The Killing Room.
The strange delights of Chinese banquets
I have since been treated to many banquets, and faced such delights as barbecued grubs on a stick, fried prawn smothered in ants, stir-fried snake, one-hundred-year-old eggs (which actually attain their brown colour by steeping in horse’s urine). All washed down with beer and the cry of gan bei −a toast meaning, literally, bottoms up, and in Shanghai, police code for ‘let’s get the guest of honour drunk’. What they failed to realise was that the capacity for alcohol of a fifteen stone Scot is considerably greater than that of a nine stone Chinese. So I survived −just.
A mortuary in Shangai
But perhaps my most traumatic experience in Shanghai was while viewing the ultra-modern mortuary and autopsy facilities. I was shown around by the chain-smoking and laconic Yan Jian Jun, senior forensic pathologist with the Shanghai Police. Yan took great delight in sliding open the drawers of the eighty-body refrigerated storage unit to let me see some of the bodies. And in one of the autopsy rooms he ignored my polite refusal to view a recently autopsied corpse, and had two assistants wheel it in on a gurney.
They unzipped the white body bag to reveal the remains of a young man in his early twenties. He was carved open like a carcass in a butcher’s shop. But what I found most shocking was the expression on his face. Eyes closed, his features were bunched up in a frown of pain or fear, or both, dark hair smeared across his forehead. I asked the interpreter how he had died and she whispered to me that he had been executed the previous day.
The death house
That experience has only been usurped by a visit, during my American trip, to the Death House in Texas, where thirty-four prisoners have been executed so far that year; the cell where they spent their last miserable hours; the table to which they were strapped before having three IVs attached to their arms; the tiny room behind the two-way mirror where the medics started the poison flowing.
Such experiences bring to my writing, I hope, a sense of awe and respect for death. For such first-hand contact with the dead, makes it only too real. And we should never write, or read, of it lightly.
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