Nate Scheutt, American, 35, is pulled into a politically charged murder investigation when he stumbles onto the bodies of two young Europeans on a prestigious Beijing university campus. Gradually Nate discovers the case is entwined with an international quest for a small stone tablet, (a stele) that might contain the key to ancient China’s long-lost link with the West.
In the 1980’s, old Beijing’s walls and hutong alleyways were disappearing, victims of Deng Xiaoping’s proclamation, “To get rich is glorious!” While juggling teaching English, his business, and women, Nate seeks refuge at the bar on the roof of the Friendship Hotel with a legation of self-imposed exiles from both sides of the Cold War. There he enters a netherworld of sex, spies, strange religion, and the hidden history of China’s Cultural Revolution.
The greatest buildings and streets in Beijing are timeless, but the new China is much freer and people more confident. The slow trains have mostly gone and cars and electric scooters have replaced many of the bicycles. International restaurants now abound, not like the few available dumpling and noodle houses in a much grayer Beijing of that time. In this aspect, the book is a valuable link between post-revolutionary China and the present as seen by a foreign observer. It also written with a great deal of humor.
As for the whodunnit. In the best literary style, it leaves the reader no chance of guessing the outcome.