JADE AND FIRE is a lesson in Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophy of mysticism and the flow of nature. As Peking Inspector Bei unravels the forces leading to the murder of the Taoist prior of the White Cloud Temple, his confucian temperament is profoundly shaken by the discovery of the Purple Mountain, a Taoist sect just outside Peking. Bei learns of the balancing nature of the yin and yang in all of life and is led not only to an understanding of the prior’s real mission but also to the “baleful star,” the shadowy figure implicated in the bloody murders of many of the city’s most refined prostitutes. The inspector is ushered into the Communist underground to negotiate a face-saving relinquishment of the city from its (historical) warlord, Fu Tsoyi, into the hands of Mao Tse-tung’s forces. Bei must also defend his life against the right-wing Te Wu police force, out to avenge its betrayal.
Though remaining true to the historical account, Raymond Barnett explores the mind of Fu Tsoyi and his Taoist concubine Meilu, evokes the feeling and importance of the Chinese tea ritual, and details the sometimes bizarre sexual and mystical rites of the Purple Mountain. The writing in this first novel is thoroughly Americanized and speeds the reader deep into the mystery as Bei learns the secret of the Taoist concept of balance and flow. The murders are depicted in unflinching detail, the sexual encounters shrouded in the euphemism of wind and rain. If many of Bei’s adventures (and escapes) seem improbable at best, the story remains gripping with welcome insights into the life of China in a momentous time.