Crisis of conscience

There isn't a community, hamlet or metropolis that doesn't have crime. And anywhere there is crime there are police. And where there are police, there are people to write about them, journalists and novelists. They tend to portray the police as more efficient than they are, to make the reader feel more safe.

Not all the police, just one who outshines his colleagues in insight and intelligence. Higher than a sergeant, lower than a superintendent. Often an inspector or chief inspector lieutenant is acceptable, with promotions to follow. Detectives -- they don't always go by the homicide book, to the consternation of their superiors.

Though distinguished by their literary creators as single, family men, smokers, drinkers, ham-fisted, cerebral, musically inclined, they are intrepid in taking down the perpetrators. The trouble in communist societies is that they have the Party machine to answer to.

It must be made to seem that they get any and all credit and none of the blame. It's a political sin to publicly resolve a case otherwise. In Shanghai Redemption by Qiu Hiaolong, Shanghai Police Chief Inspector Chen, a deputy Communist Party cadre, has a conflict of conscience.

An American businessman has been murdered and Chen's investigation points to illegal dealings in the government. Possibly as a result of his probing, the city's chief of commerce is then murdered. Effectively prevented from uncovering more, Chen is kicked upstairs.

In his promotion, Chen deals with paperwork. He can't turn down his new job but can't walk away from the cases no longer his. He decides to carry on with them, aware that the solution will reflect poorly on the Party. But he feels that as an honest policeman he can do no other.

Shanghai-born and educated, the author went to the US on a fellowship following the Tiananmen democracy demonstrations in 1989, and settled down as an American. His China-set crime thrillers bring out the greed and corruption prevalent in the communist regime.

Each chapter describes an age-old custom still practised, and includes wise sayings and lines of classical poetry. As for young women looking for work, a good many have a hard time of it.

Maybe it happened

After He, She or It -- let's say He -- created the cosmos, the quiet might have bored him, so He gave His creatures survival instincts, at least on planet Earth. To keep it they had to fight. Animals and then humans going at it, no boredom there.

Hundreds of millennia later, fights are still going on. Survival -- self-defence -- is invariably the reason given. In fact there are a variety of causes. Historians are hard put to find the correct one. Perhaps Homo sapiens has an atavistic streak that is satisfied by war, claims of being peace-loving notwithstanding.

When the conquistadors arrived in the New World, they found its tribes engaged in wiping one another out. China's internecine wars slaughtered millions. Europe experienced war after war, on land and sea. Japan's clan wars lasted centuries: wars of religion, of succession, of unification.

Julius Caesar conquered a Britain too busy fighting among itself to unite to oppose his legions. The Romans ultimately left not because they were forced out, but because by threat of the barbarians they were needed. Wars were Britain's way of life.

Pirates came -- Saxons, Danes, Norsemen. No King Arthur and Camelot, though. William the Conqueror later in the day. Bernard Cornwell is a Brit penning historical novels of no one period. He's best known for his lengthy Sharpe series, set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Warriors Of The Storm focuses on the pre-Hastings years of the war with the savage pirates (all sides were bloodthirsty). Whether the battle actually took place is a moot question, yet it's vividly described here. The author's approach is to mix fact and fiction in a who-says-it-couldn't-have-happened-this-way?

Readers of war stories, past and present, form clear mental pictures of battlefields strewn with dead and dying, yet overlook one essential: the smell, sickening and nauseating, of bowels falling out. That awful sight and odour completes the picture.

Yet wars go on.

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