Chengdu: a teeming, modern metropolis.
Yet China’s painful turbulent history still leaves its mark on the
minds of all who live there.
Philip Ye, half English, half Chinese, is a homicide detective with the
Chengdu Public Security Bureau who suffers his own anguish from a
life blighted by tragedy and the unsettling appearance of ghosts that
often intrude in on his investigations.
On a misty grey morning one such apparition leads him to a busy
street corner during the rush hour where he bears witness to a
shocking event. Against his better judgment, Phillip is drawn into the
search for a missing, vulnerable boy. His investigation brings him
into contact with Xu Ya, a brilliant and beautiful public prosecutor.
She is new to Chengdu, determined not only to make her mark but to
also leave behind her own personal heartbreak. They have crossed
paths before. He has no memory of her, but she remembers him very
Soon enough Philip Ye has a vicious murder on his hands, and then
another – the boy’s disappearance seemingly sparking a chain of
violent events. With the help of Xu Ya – dedicated to upholding
făzhì, the Rule of Law, in China ‒ and her indefatigable and worldly-
wise assistant Fatty Deng, Phillip Ye is quickly on the trail of a
mysterious figure known as The Willow Woman. But, unbeknownst
to them all, there are secretive and subversive forces at work within
the dark heart of the city and tremendous danger awaits….
BOOK DEPOSITORY: https://www.bookdepository.com/Willow-Woman-Laurence-Westwood/9781916456945?ref=grid-view&qid=1548278105382&sr=1-2
Read an extract below!
In the near distance Philip Ye saw her, plodding toward him on the other side of the road, a giantess, a veritable woman-mountain, not an ounce of fat on her, at least a head higher than most everybody else. The mass of people, travelling directly to work or first taking their children to school, flowed about this woman – a slow-moving river around a large boulder. Few made eye-contact with her. Those who did looked away quickly, not liking what they saw, wanting nothing to do with her. She moved closer, seemingly not in any hurry, her eyes flicking this way and that. She scrutinized everyone and everything about her: the pedestrians, the street-vendors and road-sweepers; the cars, buses, mopeds, and cargo tricycles driving by. She reminded him of a very old story told by the Venetian traveller, merchant and arch-fantasist Marco Polo. The story concerned a Tartar princess named Aiyaruk, which means ‘Bright Moon’. The princess, so the story goes, had such physical strength and possessed a mind of such independent bent that she had agreed only ever to marry that rare man who could best her in a bout of wrestling. There had been many contenders but Philip Ye was at a loss to recall if any had proved worthy. He smiled at his remembrance of this remarkable tale, wondering if indeed any part of it was true. That Marco Polo had actually reached China, he thought possible (if not necessarily probable), but which of Marco Polo’s many stories were actual reportage, or hearsay, or downright fantasy, he was not knowledgeable enough to say. What he did know was that the woman moving toward him was most unusual. He also knew what she was, and that it was she he had come to find.
A few hours before, Philip Ye had woken, the sky still dark and the air about him gone chill. He had fallen asleep while reading, the lamp at the side of his bed still illuminating the room with a dull yellow glow. There was fresh smoke in the air: an aromatic tobacco,
fruit-scented, seeping under the door. As always during the night, his father was up and about, smoking his pipe, wandering the great house. He could hear his father’s voice, just a faint murmur; speaking, he presumed, on the telephone. But it was not his father who had disturbed his sleep. With the familiar feeling of the hairs rising on the back of his neck, Philip Ye rolled out of bed, drew a silk dressing-gown around him and took a seat in his favourite leather armchair. He closed his eyes and began to breathe. He held it to be a truth that the rate at which thoughts cross the mind is directly proportional to the rate of respiration. If the breathing is slowed and regulated, so the mind is slowed and
regulated. And when the mind is regulated, so the emotions are diminished, and the fear that lurks within is brought under control. Inhale, counting eight heartbeats; hold for four heartbeats; exhale for eight heartbeats.
He repeated the cycle.
And then again.
He whispered to himself, “In breath, there is life; in breath,
there is serenity; in breath, there is clarity.”
He opened his eyes.
In the centre of the room stood a translucent figure, a ghost, an old man, blinking, as if surprised by this encounter with the physical world, unsure, it seemed, not only of his whereabouts but also about what he was doing here. Philip Ye pushed aside all thought
of the Chinese unwritten rule of millennia – the living were the living, and the dead were the dead, and never the twain should meet – and opened his mouth to speak.
“I am Philip Ye, a superintendent of the People’s Police, how may I be of service to you?”
The old man frowned, more definite in form and in purpose now. He pointed toward the north. “Wukuaishi…you must go to Wukuaishi…that is where you will find her.”
The old man disappeared then, still pointing toward the north as he faded from view. Wukuaishi was an area in the north of the city, in the Jinniu District, famous for its tea market but little else.
Philip Ye telephoned his friend Zuo. “Any trade tonight?”
“Not that I’ve heard. Bad dreams? Can’t sleep?”
“Something like that.”
Philip Ye terminated the call. He checked the clock. It was a few minutes after four. He showered and shaved quickly. Was time of the essence? He didn’t know. He selected a dark blue wool suit, cream silk shirt, and crimson tie with handmade black patent leather shoes that he had polished to a brilliant shine. A pale grey raincoat to finish, he briefly examined his appearance in the tall mirror before exiting his rooms. His father was nowhere to be seen. But he found Night Na lounging in a comfortable seat in the main sitting-room, some kind of investment magazine open before him.
“Where’s the fire?” Night Na asked. In fine humour, he showed almost every one of his teeth.
“Wukuaishi,” Philip Ye replied, not stopping to chat. It was pointless trying to explain.
He closed the front door behind him and, with the night mist swirling around him, jumped into the Mercedes. As he steered out of the long driveway and headed north, he picked up his phone and dialled, a sense of dread in his heart, a feeling that a tragedy was imminent, impossible to divert.
“Wukuaishi Police Station!”
“This is Superintendent Ye, Homicide – any trouble?”
“No sir, but if you wish to speak to—”
Philip Ye dropped the phone on the seat and concentrated on his driving. His destination was a long way off, the other side of the city. He pushed the car onward, the early morning traffic not yet heavy enough to slow him down. Wukuaishi was not exactly a small area. Once there he would have to make a decision about where to go, where to park up and wait. And, if his intuition gave him nothing at all, then…well, he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. No ghost had ever misdirected him before.
After what seemed an age of driving, and of gnawing indecision, he finally parked up on the Yusai Road, happy at least to find a space, somewhere to be still for a while, to breathe, to think, to contemplate just what it was the ghost had said. He was to look for a woman…or maybe a girl. But what was she: victim, witness or criminal?
Briefly he stepped out of the car to look about him, to stretch his legs, to get a feel for the area. It had been some time since he had been in this part of the city. However, he soon got back inside the car, disliking the exhaust fumes in his nostrils and the clamour of the
awakening city around him. He closed the door, happier in his mechanical cocoon. He rubbed his tired eyes and settled himself down to wait.
It was after seven, his patience almost at an end, when he spotted in the distance across the road, through the gaps in the passing traffic, the largest woman he had ever seen. It offended him that she was dressed so poorly: faded smock, ill-fitting jeans, knock-off Nike training shoes that looked as if they had already walked a thousand miles. But, while he was reflecting on her lack of care for herself, a commotion caught his eye across the road from him. He twisted in his seat to get a better look, wrenching his neck in the
process. An old man was holding a long knife aloft while clasping a young girl to him, trapping her in the crook of his free arm. The girl, in a pretty school uniform, at most eight or nine years old, was hysterical, screeching, struggling to get free. Nearby, a young woman, just as hysterical, whom Philip Ye took to be her mother, cried out to the passers-by to help.
Philip Ye had time to move, to intervene. He could have jumped out of the car and run across the road in seconds. But he recognised the old man. He thought him already dead, the exact physical likeness of his ghostly visitor from only a few hours before.
And that recognition gave him pause, glued him to his seat.
How was this possible?
Had his ghostly visitor an identical twin?
The old man was shouting. Philip Ye couldn’t hear him above the din of the traffic and from within the safety of the car. Frozen in his seat, his neck twisted around at a painful angle, Philip Ye could only watch the violence unfold, the old man waving the knife around like a crazy man.
Then, pop! pop!
The old man fell, his face contorted in mid-shout, bright-red arterial blood pumping from wounds that had blossomed suddenly on the side of his head. The young girl, still screaming, disentangled herself from the old man as he fell, to be caught in the waiting out-stretched arms of her distraught mother. Then the giantess was there, leaning over the old man, pistol in hand, staring down at the now lifeless body, her expression blank, puzzled even, seemingly devoid of any emotion. A truck pulled up to a halt beside the Mercedes, obscuring the scene. Not that it mattered. Philip Ye had already closed his eyes and settled back into his seat to ponder all that had just transpired.
After a (probably ill-advised) degree in Theoretical Physics, Laurence commenced upon a varied career in law enforcement and information security consultancy.
He regularly lectures at the University of Warwick on computer law and IP enforcement.
He has had a long-standing fascination with the political, military, social and legal history of China.
He lives just outside of Stratford-upon-Avon, England.