The Ghost Marriage by Peter May

Take this woman…

😀 😀 😀 😀

This short novella is a new follow-up to Peter May’s China Thrillers. This was the series that originally turned me into a May fan, long before the Lewis Trilogy made him a major star in the firmament of crime fiction. So it was a pleasure to revisit Margaret, the American forensic pathologist, and her Chinese partner, Li Yan of the Beijing police.

Margaret and Li Yan are still living together, now with the addition of their young son, when Margaret is approached by an elderly woman who tells her that her granddaughter has gone missing, and begs Margaret to use her influence with Li Yan to get him to investigate. As Li Yan gradually finds out what happened to the girl, the story takes us into a mysterious and macabre aspect of Chinese tradition, and into the secrets and lies that can exist in families.

Because the story is so short, I won’t say any more about the plot for fear of spoiling it. What has always attracted me most to May’s writing is that he chooses interesting settings for his crimes and his impeccable research allows him to create a great sense of place. This was always particularly true of the China Thrillers, especially since he began the series way back when the idea of visiting China still seemed like an exotic dream for most of us. The length of this one doesn’t allow for much description of Beijing itself, but the plot gives an insight into some of the strange superstitions and rituals that still exist in the country, while also touching on some of the issues thrown up by China’s long-standing but now abandoned one-child policy.

From the South China Morning Post: Dolls represent the happy couple in a Chinese-style “ghost wedding”

With Margaret being a pathologist, the China Thrillers also contained some rather gruesome autopsy scenes, and that tradition continues in this one. There isn’t room for a huge amount of detection – really we just see the story unfold along with Li Yan as he gradually uncovers the truth. I enjoyed it as a way to catch up with two characters who feel like old friends, but I think it would work equally well as a brief introduction to the style of the series for people who haven’t tried it yet. There was never much doubt that Margaret and Li Yan would stay together as a couple so although this takes place after the other books, it’s otherwise spoiler free.

Peter May

I listened to the Audible audiobook version, narrated by Peter Forbes who, I believe, has been the narrator for May’s books for a long time now. I thought his narration was very good – I have no way of knowing whether his pronunciations of Chinese words and names is accurate, but I certainly found them convincing. The decision to give the Chinese characters Chinese accents didn’t really work for me, I admit – I feel that if characters are supposed to be speaking their own language, then they shouldn’t be made to sound ‘foreign’. I listened to a Maigret novel immediately following this, where the narrator gave all the French characters English accents appropriate to their class and position in society, and I must say that felt much more natural and authentic. However, it’s a debatable point, and some people may prefer the ‘foreign’-sounding accents.

Overall, a short but enjoyable return to the world of Beijing. I’m now wondering whether this is a kind of coda to the series, or whether it’s to whet our appetites for a future new novel? I hope it’s the latter…

NB This audiobook was provided for review by Audible UK via MidasPR. The story is also available as an e-book.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link
Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

25 thoughts on “The Ghost Marriage by Peter May

  1. So glad to hear that this one didn’t disappoint, FictionFan. May really is so very skilled at crafting settings, isn’t he? And I like the way he tells the stories of families over time. Interesting, too, that he’s looking at China’s one-child policy, too. That had so many repercussions for Chinese society on so many levels…

    • He is, and I loved the Beijing setting of the China Thrillers especially. The one-child policy is a fascinating episode of social engineering, isn’t it? I guess when it started no-one could really foresee the huge growth in life expectancy, but it seems to have left China now with problems that will last for decades…

  2. I’m not familiar with any of these works, FF, but they both sound interesting. Thanks for introducing me to them, and kudos for saying just the right amount without giving the story away!

    • Thanks, Debbie! 🙂 The China thrillers were an excellent series – I’m intrigued to see if May’s going to go back to them. It’s interesting how much China has changed in the twenty years or so since he started writing them…

  3. I would worry that a voice actor trying to sound foreign while he’s speaking English because that’s how it’s written, though it’s meant to be Chinese, would sound offensive and insensitive.

    • I agree. I think he avoided making it sound offensive because he didn’t overdo it, so they didn’t sound caricatured, but I do think it’s risky. Really if anyone sounded ‘foreign’ in this book it should be Margaret, the American living in Beijing…

  4. I really should try the China Thrillers although I do like to think I discovered The Lewis Trilogy before it took off… I often wonder how the narrators decide what to do about foreign characters but personally I prefer English accents to faux foreign 😊

    • I wonder what you’d think of the China thrillers – they’re quite different from the Lewis trilogy in a lot of ways, I think. But the writing is excellent, of course, and the Beijing setting is fascinating. I always wonder if the narrators make the decisions themselves or if there’s a sort of director. Though I don’t remember ever hearing a director being credited. But yes, I prefer English accents too when characters are speaking their own language…

    • Ha – I’m not a big fan of autopsy scenese either but they were all the rage when this series started out, and I suppose it would be hard to change Margaret’s career now… 😉

  5. The setting sounds interesting, but I’m not a big fan of gruesome autopsy scenes. I’m listening to Nele Neuhaus’ The Ice Queen at the moment, and the narrator changes voices according to the age and gender of the characters. I find it rather amusing when he does his “old woman” impression, but I think a forced foreign accent would put me off a little bit, especially when we know that the characters are speaking in their native language.

    • I’m not a fan of autopsy scenes either, but they were all the rage when this series started and I suppose Margaret’s career makes it hard to leave them out. Otherwise the books are great though. I love when narrators are willing to ‘do’ all the different voices and accents, but I agree – if the characters are supposed to be speaking their native language, then a ‘foreign’ accent doesn’t sound right somehow…

    • Thanks, Beth! 😀 I do think the Lewis trilogy is probably his best work, but I enjoyed the China thrillers a lot when they came out. Must do a re-read one of these days…

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