2012 Taipei Book Fair Award for Fiction
2011 China Times Open Book Award
2011 Asia Weekly Top Ten Chinese Novel of the Year
Private Eyes is a brilliant literary detective novel in which a failed-academic-turned-sleuth tries to make sense of the absurdity of modern city life and to prove his innocence in a series of murders. The first ever serial killer in Taiwan? A family scandal that leads to the corruption of the social health insurance system? A Buddhist fanatic who turns to killing people as a way to attain ‘salvation’? These are only part of the charm of this hilarious and darkly delicious novel.
Wu Cheng, a disillusioned playwright and theatre director, quits his job as a college professor and moves to Liuzhangli, a district in Taipei he fondly describes as the ‘Dead Zone’ because of its thriving funeral trade. It also symbolizes the ‘arrested modernization’ that is Taipei City, an uneasy coexistence between the old and the new. There Wu sets up shop as the first and only private detective in Taiwan. He is neither technology-savvy nor does he take on jobs stalking unfaithful spouses.
His first case is to find out why Mrs Lin’s young daughter has suddenly turned against her husband. It sounds easy enough: either the girl was sexually molested by father, or she has somehow stumbled upon a clandestine affair. Enlisting the help of a badmouthing and streetwise taxi driver, Wu unearths the shocking truth and develops his own romantic subplot along the way.
Just as Wu is about to settle into his new life (and new love interest), he is arrested by the police and asked to answer for a series of murders. The crimes have been taking place in the very neighborhood in which he lives and his image has been captured by the ever-present security cameras. Obviously Wu hasn’t committed the crimes. He has no memory of ever even having spoken to the victims. But what about his medical history of depression-turned-neurosis? Wasn’t he displaying signs of mentally instability when he jumped onto the table and insulted all his theatre friends?
Wu Cheng needs to prove his innocence and find out who is behind the murders. What creates a serial killer? Why has there never been one in Taiwan, until now? Wu will also need to look deeply into himself, because the murderer is someone who knows him so intimately that he or she is able to assume his likeness to frame him for the crimes. Someone from his dark past.
Part detective story and part social satire, Private Eyes is a literary tour de force that will have you turning the pages until the very end. It is a meditation on the nature of serial killers and an insightful study of the crime genre, but most of all it is about the anxiety and absurdity of urban life.