Our Books

Citizen One

Author: Andy Oakes

Cover illustration: Ben Mitchell  

Sun Piao is released from a Chinese psychiatric hospital and demoted to a job in the Vice Squad, which doesn't exist according to the Chinese authorities. This is a moving and gripping tale of murder, justice and power struggles in China's underbelly and explores the extraordinary complexities of modern Chinese society.

Beckie Jordan in The Big Issue

As the simple murder plot unfolds into something more devious, it gets harder and harder to put down.

Alex Griffiths in Buzz Magazine

Oakes' first novel, Dragon Eye, introduced the quick-thinking detective Sun Piao and was such a success it was translated into several other languages. This sequel continues at the same cracking pace, beginning with the gruesome murder, rape and encasing in concrete of a young girl. Oakes ably evokes the sights and sounds of a corrupt, claustrophobic Shanghai against the euphoric backdrop of the 2008 Olympic Games. Sun Piao returns from his incarceration in a high-security hospital for Chinese dissidents, "Ankang", a place that "punishes through the use of injections... injections that swell your tongue so that it bulges out of your mouth". He is demoted at work, joins the vice squad, and finds himself tackling not just the murder of local prostitutes but also the gradual butchering of his own colleagues.

Scotland on Sunday

If anything, Citizen One, is a darker and more foreboding tale than its predecessor. As before,the insight into Chinese society is as involving as the case itself. Oakes’ considered attention to detail providing the backdrop with as many dimensions as his leading pair, who remain a joy, their relationship invested with warmth and wry humour that manages to steer clear of sentimentality and cliché. Cracking stuff.

Michael Harcourt in The Leeds Guide

Meet Shanghai's answer to Dirty Harry. Accompanied by his sidekick, Yaobang, a Chinese Sancho Panza who doesn't mince words. Oakes, winner of the European Crime and Mystery Award for his previous work, Dragon's Eye, is a master of hyperbole, with a solid grasp of things Chinese.
Citizen One is a sprawling tale swinging between past and present, communism and capitalism, fantasy and reality, at turns wildly implausible and almost convincing.

Mark Schreiber in The Japan Times

There is a decided whiff of mortality among the big beasts of crime fiction. With the much-lamented death of Michael Dibdin, there will be no more Aurelio Zen novels. Ian Rankin's Rebus has reached his long-dreaded retirement and, in the latest books from Reginald Hill and Christopher Brookmyre, Andy Dalziel and Jack Parlabane are (apparently) either dying or dead.
With such a criminal number of authors and detectives shuffling off this mortal coil, it's the perfect time for a new generation to try and step into their shoes. One such is Andy Oakes and his Chinese detective Sun Piao.
Based in Shanghai, Sun made his debut in 2004 in the acclaimed Dragon's Eye. As this book, the second in the series, begins Sun has just been released from Ankang, a "psychiatric hospital" for dissidents, and is about to take up a new post in the vice squad. This isn't much of a job since, officially, there is no vice in the People's Republic of China.
Nevertheless Sun, aided by his loyal sidekick Yaobang, is soon hard at work investigating a series of vicious and apparently motiveless murders of prostitutes.
The authorities are anxious that these killings are, if not solved, at least hushed up as they threaten to disturb the smooth run-up to the 2008 Olympics. It is therefore inconvenient, to say the least, when several of Sun's police colleagues are murdered and all the signs point to the involvement of high-ranking members of the People's Liberation Army.
In the wrong hands, such a scenario would be dreadful; an inauthentic potboiler with a generic sleuth draped with a little "exotic" local colour. Fortunately, Andy Oakes writes with style and verve, the plot crackles with intrigue and double-bluffs, the setting is a convincing amalgam of grubby realism and authentic detail, and the climax is suitably apocalypic.
Sun Piao is a superb creation - a flawed but heroic man dedicated beyond the call of duty to the rule of law in a society run by corrupt and amoral bureaucrats. The stifling control exercised by a totalitarian system pervades the book, adding emphasis to the tiny, fleeting areas of personal freedom that mavericks such as Sun manage to carve out.
Citizen One combines cracking entertainment with a pinsharp analysis of the pressures building at the faultlines of Chinese society as the old guard of the communist system are challenged by a new generation eager for change and greedy for power.

Peter Whittaker in Tribune

Present-day China is still relatively unknown in the West, and Andy Oakes’s portrayal in Citizen One could hardly be more startling. This isn't a novel for the squeamish, as the opening pages make clear: a young woman is dragged from a limousine into Shanghai's half-built Olympic stadium, where she is tortured and murdered. The killers are high-ranking party officials who have played such 'games' before, and two policemen who try to open an investigation are savagely murdered. Into this scenario steps Sun Piao, a detective newly released from a psychiatric hospital for dissidents. Appointed head of the vice squad in Shanghai (a cruel hoax, because it's been disbanded), Sun Piao doggedly pursues an unofficial investigation, uncovering a link between the dead women and the scientists whose research the government is trying to suppress. Citizen One is an assault on the senses, violent and lyrical by turns as it pits a decent man against an omnipotent state.

Joan Smith in The Sunday Times

An alluring thriller that is hard to put down.

Ayo Onatade in Shots Magazine

I felt a sense of outrage at the seemingly excessive violence of the opening scene which immediately drew me into the plot, wanting to find out more. This is a gripping, gritty detective thriller set in Shanghai dealing with corruption in a post-Mao era.

Oakes has created a vivid sense of what life is like in a burgeoning new city where conflicts between old and new values, rich and poor are played out. It is written with eloquent precision and the descriptions of the scents and smells of the city give vivid atmosphere contrasting the luxury and poverty which co-exists.

The brilliant detective Sun Piao is a wonderfully drawn character, a modern-day hero. He shows utter dedication, putting his own life in danger to expose the murderer. He is unrelenting in his search for justice and exposes truths which his superiors do not want him to find.
The descriptions of violence may be off-putting to some readers but I think the political and social insight into the complexity of modern Chinese society would provide a good discussion.

Margaret Fisk in Newbooks Issue 40

Taut writing, horrifying images, memorable characters. A totally absorbing read.

Kathy Reichs

RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 434

Publication date: 29.05.2007

ISBN numbers:
978 1 903517 49 9
978 1 907650 85 7

Dedalus World
Rights sold: UK massmarket (Pan/MacMillan)
Germany (DTV),
France (Calmann-Levy trade paperback, Pocket livre de poche edition),
Italy (Fanucci),
Spain (Alianza)