Book Review, Characters of Color, Detective Fiction, Mystery, Police Procedural, Series, St. Martin's Press

Thief of Souls (Inspector Lu Fei Mysteries #1) by Brian Klingborg


Lu Fei is a graduate of China’s top police college but he’s been assigned to a sleepy backwater town in northern China, where almost nothing happens and the theft of a few chickens represents a major crime wave. That is until a young woman is found dead, her organs removed, and joss paper stuffed in her mouth. The CID in Beijing—headed by a rising political star—is on the case but in an increasingly authoritarian China, prosperity and political stability are far more important than solving the murder of an insignificant village girl. As such, the CID head is interested in pinning the crime on the first available suspect rather than wading into uncomfortable truths, leaving Lu Fei on his own.

As Lu digs deeper into the gruesome murder, he finds himself facing old enemies and creating new ones in the form of local Communist Party bosses and corrupt business interests. Despite these rising obstacles, Lu remains determined to find the real killer, especially after he links the murder to other unsolved homicides. But the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he puts himself and his loved ones in danger.


When St. Martin’s Press recommended this book to me, I was thrilled to read a book about a Chinese detective that I don’t often encounter.

Inspector Lu Fei is a good cop in a corrupt society. “China’s last unicorn”, so to speak.  Lu is assigned to assist the cynical and ambitious Deputy Director of the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) in a brutal murder of a local female and territories get marked and egos get bruised. When the investigation becomes linked to other crimes, then the hunt for a serial killer is on.

The story starts slow, but the momentum of the search for a killer takes over and it’s a race against time to save the next victim which ends in a predictable, but no less gripping finale.

Inspector Lu is a great protagonist with his martial art skills, his Confucius quotes, high morality, and disregard of the immoral authority figures in his profession.  His sarcastic wit and dedication to finding the killer are to be commended considering he is fighting an uphill battle with the unscrupulous and unprincipled turpitude of the higher-ups in the Chinese government. He also reveals his romantic side shown by his quiet, but earnest interest in the widow who owns the bar he frequents. 

Many characters in the story are essential to the story, such as Lu’s chief, colleagues, his love interest, and other witnesses and suspects that keep the story moving.

Mr. Klingborg also captures the reader’s attention by describing in great detail the inner workings of Chinese law enforcement as well as little tidbits about the Chinese healthcare system, religion, and political unrest.

I recommend this smart and engrossing police procedural with a fascinating location and a wonderful cast of characters.  

Thank you to Mr. Klingborg, St. Martin’s Press, and Netgalley, for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.


Thief of Souls

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Brian Klingborg has both a B.A. (University of California, Davis) and an M.A. (Harvard) in East Asian Studies and spent years living and working in Asia. He currently works in early childhood educational publishing and lives in New York City. Klingborg is also the author of Kill Devil Falls.

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