A Yi, Author, Book review, Books in translation, China, crime/thriller, Fiction, Oneworld, Publisher, Setting

‘A Perfect Crime’ by A Yi


Fiction – hardcover; Oneworld Publications; 224 pages; 2015. Translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood.

I do love a dark crime novel — and A Yi’s A Perfect Crime is probably one of the darkest I’ve read in a long time.

Set in China, it follows the exploits of a disaffected 19-year-old student who decides he’s so bored he needs to do something to make his life more exciting. Where others might go on a holiday or take up a new hobby, this nameless young man decides to murder a fellow student by luring her into the apartment he shares with his aunt. Here, he brutally stabs her to death and then shoves her body into a washing machine. He then goes on the run, criss-crossing the country, in what turns out to be a cat-and-mouse game with the police.

Will he get caught?

A Perfect Crime isn’t your traditional who dunnit, because we know up front who committed the crime. We also know how he did it, and, because it’s told entirely from his point of view, we also know why he did it, even if we may not understand his reasoning or logic. What we don’t know is whether he will get caught, and if he does get caught, will he get away with it or begin to show remorse?

This makes the book quite an original take on a genre that can often be predictable or trot out the same old tropes. And despite the fact the reader knows the who, why and how of the narrator’s horrid and brutal crime, the author manages to achieve a high level of tension throughout. I raced through this in just a handful of sittings and felt slightly wrung out by the end of it.

It’s an incredibly bleak story, one that often brought to mind Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick and MJ Hyland’s This is How, two books that are fascinating portraits of murderers who commit extraordinary violent murders almost on a whim. I was also reminded of the very best Japanese crime fiction — for instance, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Thief and Shuichi Yoshida’ Villain — which explore the dark recesses of Japanese society.

A dark glimpse at Chinese culture

Interestingly, I heard the author speak about this book (via a translator) at the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival earlier in the week. He said the book was based on a true crime and that he wanted to explore the dark underbelly of Chinese culture, but he did not want to glorify the crime, hence he did not give the narrator a name.

Having now read the book, I can see that his experience in law enforcement (he was a policeman for five years) and as a journalist/editor, has come to the fore. Not only does the content of the book feel authentic, in particular, the crime and the judicial process that follows, it reads like a dream — the prose is action-driven, clean, bare-boned and there’s not a word out of place.

But while A Perfect Crime is set in China and gives us a glimpse of a society undergoing super-quick change, this is essentially a universal story of what can happen to young men, who are disaffected, bored and uninspired by the life they see before them — no matter where they live.

For another take on this book, please see Stu’s review.

10 thoughts on “‘A Perfect Crime’ by A Yi”

    1. The way both characters go into hiding after their murders and just the way they appear to have committed them simply out of boredom are just two of the similarities between the two books. At the event, A Yi said he was also inspired by the work of Dostoyevsky.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Mmmm, interesting, I liked the Handke book – but also felt that it was quite a philosophical meditation on modern life. Would you say this too is about more than just the crime, you say it analyses a very rapidly changing Chinese society?


    1. Well, it doesn’t analyse Chinese society directly; you have to read between the lines. But there is a very real hint that people are busy trying to make money, running businesses etc, in the rush to escape poverty and make something of themselves. But people still have crude ways (spitting at each other, for instance) which bely their backgrounds. I think it helps that I spent a month in China in late 2010 so the book recalled certain aspects of China that had fascinated me…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s been a bit of chat on Facebook about the difficulties of Chinese translation (See http://www.themillions.com/2015/03/literary-prowess-lost-on-mo-yans-frog-and-the-trouble-with-translation.html – it’s basically about all the double meanings that can be generated via those pictograms and how an authentic translation can sound clunky but one that sounds good in English may not be authentic) – can you comment on what you thought of how this one has been translated?


    1. I thought the translation was excellent, not clunky at all. During the evening, the author was asked how he felt about having his book translated into English and was he worried about the authenticity of it. His reply? “I think translation can actually improve a novel” — make of that what you will!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s nice. I think some people are a bit precious about translation, but I suspect it does make it more difficult if it’s very poetic or lyrical sort of writing rather than plot or character driven. Humour might be hard to catch too, if it depends on puns. But then, Shane Maloney writes very Melbourne specific crime novels that are full of in-jokes, and he’s been translated into dozens of languages….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t read many crime novels, but this sounds like an interesting angle. I’m intrigued… However, I hope there is something wrong with that guy other than boredom. 🙂


    1. I suspect he’s got some kind of sociopathy/psychopathy problem because he doesn’t really feel any remorse and can’t quite see that what he’s done is wrong. The overall effect is very spine chilling, I must say.


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