I haven’t read many books in an Asian setting, much less urban fantasy. Detective Chen is the familiar world-weary but still hopeful police officer who does his best to help people. Williams took that and turned it sideways in a most enjoyable way.
The world is something like modern Asia, only cities have been franchised, and Heaven and Hell are real stops on the reincarnation wheel. By the end,
I could see how the other facets of the world-weary detective were going to come into play, including the somewhat challenged but staid sidekick, and the uneasy alliance with the criminal (demon) element that is acting with honor in it’s own way, and the unobtrusively supportive superior who will throw him to the wolves if the Detective fails.
The book was filled with rich detail that created a vivid image of the environment–particularly the humidity and the desperately functioning air-conditioners–without so much world-building that readers will feel bogged by endless detail. Williams did use one of my unfavorite ploys of starting with a scene plucked out of the near end of the book that foreshadowed problems to come, but I forgive her, as the rest was so much fun. My only real criticism is the set-up of the book; we initially meet Chen in third person view, then his wife (“meanwhile, back at the ranch…”), then the demon Zhu Irzh, and then adds in a further perspective or two as the story progresses, which I felt might have jumbled the narrative unnecessarily. It would have been more fun seeing Zhu gain humanity through others’ perspective, rather than reading him thinking about it.
But really, what can you say about a book that contains lines such as “Passers-by took one look at Detective Inspector Chen hastening down the road with a lobster on a string, like one of the more eccentric French surrealists, and gave him a very wide berth” or “You have my full and total support, as long as I don’t actually have to go any nearer to this supernatural shit than I can help, and as long as you sort it out,“ followed by a discussion of how a Ministry of Hell uses pharmaceutical companies? Love it.