Cutting off the snake’s head

Peter May writes an excellent crime mystery or thriller. He is good at conveying atmosphere and his books are set in a variety of locations. They also have satisfying plots which are always resolved. I’ve read and reviewed quite a few of them on this site – see here for a thriller set in Europe, here for a review of his trilogy set in the Hebrides,  here for a thriller set in a pandemic world and here for a book set in Thailand and Cambodia.

Snakehead is part of a series the author has written about a pathologist, Margaret Campbell, who spends time in China and connects with police investigations there. She has a close relationship with Detective Li Yan but by this book Margaret is back in the USA and Li is in the West too as a liaison between the American and Chinese police. The story starts when a vehicle full of dead Chinese immigrants is found. Li knows one of the dead people who was an undercover police officer from China hoping to identifythe criminal mastermind behind people smuggling – a snakehead. The dead police officer has left a diary which reveals that all of the migrants have been injected with something before they started on this trip.

The police investigation has to determine what the virus is that has infected the migrants and how to stop it spreading into the wider community. They also have to trace the people smugglers. Things are further complicated when a lead to more Chinese migrants uncovers another person close to Li.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s fast paced and well plotted. Margaret is a brusque woman who has a habit of saying the wrong thing and alienating people but we see how much she has compassion for the victims and how committed she is to the investigation – we also see how much the two main characters care about each other and how they find it difficult to reconcile their two different worlds.

You can read this book without having read the others in the series. I have read most of them and think that this one may be the best even though it is the only one not set in China. This is a good, solid crime novel with some interesting ideas and some compelling characters.

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