I was really looking forward to the second installment in the Inspector Chen series but was quite disappointed in this book. Detective Yu, a primary character in the first novel, barely made an appearance in this one, instead too much time is devoted to the character Detective Rohn, an American working for the U.S. Marshall's office. Frankly she just isn't that interesting, she seems like a caricature of an American woman, blond, pretty, not all that smart save for an occasional comment here and there, and worst of all close minded. I didn't really get into the "what could have been" romantic suggestion the author made about her and Chen, she was too condescending towards the Chinese, I didn't think Chen, despite his own struggles within the political system, would really find her appealing.
I also felt Qiu Xiaolong relied too heavily on plot devices he used in Death of Red Heroine, which were fabulous the first time but formulaic here. It seemed like Inspector Chen doesn't really work at all, he just ponders things until he makes a connection. That is part of detective work, but not the whole bit. Also, Chen's wrap up at the end of the novel was dull, I wanted to read about the things he discovered as he was discovering them, not later in summary. How is the reader supposed to feel like part of the story otherwise?
Despite all these criticisms there were some great moments in the book, and I hope I never have to drink snake's blood to show my gratitude to anyone!