Liberation Street by @LWestwoodAuthor
Chengdu, Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China – a city beset by mid-summer heat, rainstorms, and murder.
Prosecutor Xu Ya of the People’s Procuratorate is summoned in the middle of the night to the disturbing death of a famous and politically-connected businessman in Plum Tree Pagodas, a luxury apartment complex owned by the influential family Fu – and ordered to investigate with the utmost secrecy.
Meanwhile, Philip Ye, a homicide detective with Chengdu Public Security Bureau, has just returned from an ill-tempered holiday in the U.K. to discover that his unhappy protégé, Constable Ma Meili, has, against his strict instructions, taken on the case of a vicious killing of a retired army general – a crime that intrigues Philip Ye so much that he adopts the investigation as his own.
Little do Philip Ye and Prosecutor Xu know that their respective investigations will yet again set them on a collision course – and that the assassins of both the businessman and retired army general are still stalking the rainswept streets of Chengdu.
What was it all about
Liberation Street by Laurence Westwood was a police procedural at its core but well enveloped in the geo-political culture that made up the Sichuan Province of mainland China.
This was book 2 in the series, and it would be well advised you read book 1, The Willow Woman, as then the characters would be more familiar to you. But frankly speaking, I had forgotten about all the characters except for Philip Ye, the principal investigator, yet this book welcomed me with open arms.
That’s what made the book a deeply immersive one because it never felt alien, never made me feel guilty that I didn’t remember all the characters of the earlier book. It provided a deep background of all the characters, though some might be considered small spoilers if you hadn’t read Willow Woman. (Check our my review here)
But fear not, Willow Woman had many shades of subplots to it, so there was more to discover in its mystery, even if few parts were revealed in Liberation Street.
A Short Blurb
Two murder mysteries: one of a business mogul with Prosecutor Xu Ya and Fatty Deng secretly looking into it and the other of a retired army general, which was an open investigation conducted by Superintendent Philip Ye and Constable Ma Meili.
But down the pages, both their investigations bisected each other, and the story got extremely interesting when all four worked together.
Trigger Warnings: nothing triggered me in this book.
At 800+ pages, I thought it to be daunting, but the characterization of the numerous people embedded in the plot line invited me with open arms to read their story.
Dual compelling hooks of murder mystery and getting to know the people who lived and worked on Liberation Street, along with the intelligence of the main characters kept me completely immersed in this book over the long weekend.
I felt this book to be better than Willow Woman as there was something elusive, something alluring, about all the characters, who kept calling out to me. So, I could never really stay far away from this book.
This story blew away all my expectations, as I didn’t expect to care so much for all its characters. Honestly. Long after the book was done, I couldn’t stop thinking about their lives.
Loved every one of them, even the villains, because I could understand the reasons they killed. All of them were likable because they stood strong even when their beliefs might not be considered just.
Initially, I thought I would be very confused since their family names and their ways of being were quite different from what I read in other novels. But it was these differences that endeared them to me.
Superintendent Philip Ye was still as enigmatic as ever, with his moments of epiphany while traversing the world between the living and spiritual. Determination and stubbornness were his middle names. As rightly called in the book, he was like a hunting dog who couldn’t let go of small things of the past like what happened to Prosecutor Xu Ya’s husband. He liked his strings tied well. No loose ends.
Fatty Yang and Ma Meili were delightful, as they gave me great insights into the workings of their minds and their hidden desires. They were both quick to act even when they seemed slow on the uptake at times.
But it was the Prosecutor herself who kept me on my toes with her volatile outbursts and slaps, most of them directed toward Philip Ye. She kept wondering why Philip was not interested in her as she was in him, unknowing that he was completely into me. Ah well, I can always imagine. But she came up with her own bursts of wit and persistence. She was one contrary character in the book.
But these four were just some of the people who made up this book. You would think the story revolved around them, but it actually didn’t. It was about all the people of the past and present and everything that was the history of the cultural land of China.
Being a thriller gal, I was always more into the plot line of a book, and this simply blew my mind away in the way the author had connected details of the story from the present deep into the past. Facts and fiction were well interweaved that every moment resonated its beat in my heart.
Try as I might, I couldn’t analyze every line of the book. I was swept away by the innate nature of the characters, along with the murders that occurred. They were so complex and interesting.
Just one more page before I get to my chores/work was my mantra while reading this book.
The entire book was steeped in the history and culture of China. Don’t get put off by the continent used in the setting. The people there were just like us, struggling to get from one day to the other, hiding some secrets while leading normal lives.
The genre of police procedural was wrapped delicately in the political climate of the Chengdu district of China. Everything was detailed, yet so easy to understand. Liberation Street was a complete world of its own.
The book just pulled me in with its first chapter, and the pages turned fast almost naturally. Never did I feel I was reading a big book. Curiosity to know what really happened dogged my footsteps at every point. In fact, I was quite proud that I finished the book in three days.
The style of writing - The Prose
The book came alive because of the author’s writing. I could vividly envision all the scenes of the prose as if they were from a three-dimensional movie, slowly wrapping each moment around me, be it from the present or the past. Chinese beliefs and the day-to-day lives of the people captured my heart as I turned each page.
You would think that their voices would have gotten lost in the massive tome that was this book, but surprisingly, each of them sang their song crystal clear.
The murder mysteries and their roots in the past and the history and political beliefs of China were well-researched. Even while being fiction, every one of the subplots felt true.
YOU JUST HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK TO BELIEVE IT.
How it made me feel
ELATED. COMPLETE. SATISFIED.
The story left me with a book hangover, wanting to know more about the daily lives of these characters, whether they would find what they were seeking. I was happy the author had tied every loose end in the book, leaving a hint of a sequel.
This was a very difficult review to write because there were so many things I wanted to express, but emotions clogged my throat. Some of the nuances in the story had to be felt and didn’t have any English words to rightly translate into. Some feelings had no words. They could only be lived through while reading the book.
Do I recommend this book?
YES. YES. YES.
There were very few books like these that were worlds apart in every way, writings that could show you the underbelly of society, the darkness of human nature, while making you care for them completely with your entire heart.
You would never be able to stay indifferent to these characters. Such a book ought to be read. And the murder mysteries and the detailed intricacies of various incidents were just the icing on the cake.
Author Laurence Westwood has done a brilliant job with this book. Don’t get daunted by the setting and the number of pages, they would cease to matter when you start loving these characters.
I bought the digital and physical versions of the book from an online retail, and this is my journey down its pages, straight from the heart. STRICTLY HONEST and UNBIASED.
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Thank you, Shalini – you are very kind!!
Excellent review, Shalini.