A detective with a literary bent leads a squad which gets called in for "sensitive" cases. If the setting is London, his name is Adam Dalgliesh. If Shanghai, rather Chen Cao. In either case, the reader can expect writing which is a satisfying novel whether or not any crime is solved.
While I think the overall mystery in Red Mandarin Dress was the least satisfying to me of the Inspector Chen novels so far, I would still recommend this book (and all its precursors) unstintingly. In this case, Qui is attempting to wrestle with the relation of Western psychological theories of crime to China, both on the level of official acceptance and usage, and at the level of cultural suitedness. I've read technical essays on whether or not specific Western psychological formations apply to Asian (specifically Japanese) culture, and if so how. It was delightful to see such questions worked in a novelistic form.
Along with this unique content, there is the usual explication of the political, economic, and social disruption of the Chinese transition into command capitalism (aka "socialism with Chinese characteristics"). And Chen's personal struggle to connect himself to the cultural traditions that entice him (both Chinese and Western poetry, and his father's Confucian scholarship) and find his place in modern China. And the aftereffects of the cultural revolution. Oh, and food. Qui never lets you forget that China has a food tradition that makes the French and Italians look like narrow-minded pikers, and every book leaves me hungry for some Shanghai delicacy.
Did I mention there's a mystery in there as well? With daring escapades and brutal murders and outwitted police and indirect clues! Really, these books are a banquet, and my only question is how long I can hold off reading the next one. If I've tempted you, Death of a Red Heroine is the place to start.