RogerBW's Blog

The Demon and the City, Liz Williams 29 October 2020

2006 urban fantasy, second in the series set in Singapore Three. With Detective Inspector Chen on vacation, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, his demonic partner, must look into the matter of a murdered socialite…

There's a shift of focus this time; we visit all the realms except Hell, but most of the narrative is spent in the city, which has mysteriously lost most of the futuristic trappings it had in the first volume.

It's Zhu Irzh's story, at least at first, and while his attitude is enjoyable to read (he is after all an actual demon, who used to work in Vice, but he's disconcerted to find himself developing something that feels remarkably like a conscience), things really take off half-way through the book when Chen returns and we get back to their relationship (which for the most part is buddy-cop, but with interesting twists). By then it's pretty clear what's going on, and the problem at hand is what to do about it.

He had expected the attempt to buy him off, and had enough native cunning to anticipate what might happen if he made a fuss. The last site manager for Paugeng had been a man with little or no sense of personal danger, some sort of genetic mutation, Paravang supposed, and had not only taken Tserai to task over medical related staff problems once, but several times. The man had an extensive opportunity to explore such difficulties, now, having come down with an unusual kidney disease after a visit to Tevereya. There had been considerable speculation as to its cause, never satisfactorily resolved. Fortunately, Paugeng looked after its own, and had provided medical treatment at a discount rate.

There are new characters, and they feel real. The mystery is laid out more plainly than I usually expect from a detective story, though that's not really what this is, for all it starts with a murder. The writing is sometimes clumsy, with some continuity problems (someone is specifically described as being gagged, but two paragraphs later he's exchanging banter with his captors) and… oh dear, what seem at first to be three interesting and strong lesbian characters all end up either dead or in relationships with men. (Or both.) All right, they might have been bi all along, but it still leaves a bit of a bad taste.

But then again there's that welcome feeling that Williams (not a Chinese person) has used the Chinese system of bureaucratic Heaven and Hell for inspiration, mixing it with other influences, rather than simply copying it. And a sense of fun that makes up for many other problems.

"It's your word against mine, Zhu Irzh. You're a demon from the realm of Hell. And I'm Singapore Three's premier businesswoman. I could buy this city. In fact," Jhai frowned, as if trying to remember where she'd purchased a pair of shoes, "I think I already have."

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Previous in series: Snake Agent | Series: Detective Inspector Chen | Next in series: Precious Dragon

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