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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Perfect Crime

A Yi

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To purchase A Perfect Crime

Title: A Perfect Crime
Author: A Yi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 210 pages
Original in: Chinese
Availability: A Perfect Crime - US
A Perfect Crime - UK
A Perfect Crime - Canada
A Perfect Crime - India
Le jeu du chat et de la souris - France
E adesso ? - Italia
Una pizca de maldad - España
  • Chinese title: 下面,我该干些什么
  • Translated by Anna Holmwood

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Our Assessment:

B+ : dark portrait of Chinese adolescent nihilism

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
SCMP . 13/5/2015 Tessa Chan
Wall St. Journal . 16/7/2015 C. Sebag-Montefiore
Wall St. Journal . 14/8/2015 Howard French
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2016 Daniel Bokemper

  From the Reviews:
  • "A Yi controls the pace of the story so perfectly that we experience the crime -- and its aftermath -- from the point of view of his nameless protagonist. (...) A Yi excels in his vivid, sordid portrait of contemporary China. It's a heartbreaking tale of a rotten, alienated society fuelled by greed -- a nation in moral crisis." - Tessa Chan, South China Morning Post

  • "A Perfect Crime is less a traditional catch-him-if-you-can crime caper and more a psychological probe into a pathological mind. Rather than cliff-hangers or plot twists, itís the pulsating inner zeal of this nihilistic 19-year-old that gives the book its verve. (...) The pace at times can be unbearably slow. And itís difficult to identify with a protagonist so utterly dislikable. Where A Yi succeeds, though, is in his monstrous creationís voice, which has an authenticity in its bratish cynicism." - Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, Wall Street Journal

  • "(A) psychologically intense book (.....) Unrelenting in its bleakness, the story proceeds as a kind of anti-procedural. (...) Our nameless characterís revolt is against all the emptiness he sees in contemporary life in China -- the relentless exam pressure, the tawdry materialism, the lust for property, the obsession with upward mobility." - Howard French, Wall Street Journal

  • "(A) disconcerting medley of misanthropy, escapism, and media monstrosities. (...) Looking beyond the narration, Yi establishes himself as a master of description, conveying the claustrophobia and congestion found in the tightest corners of urban life." - Daniel Bokemper, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Perfect Crime is narrated by a nineteen-year-old just finishing school. He has prepared for the next stage in his life, but it isn't college or work. Instead, he's planning a murder.
       His father died of cancer, and ever since his mother has just been obsessed with earning money, shoving the narrator off to live, unhappily, with his aunt and uncle at the military academy compound in the local capital. Often left to his own devices -- his uncle has been stationed elsewhere, his aunt is overseeing a new house they're building -- he seems adrift, even as the novel begins with him carefully setting the groundwork for his deed.
       Over the course of the story he makes a variety of lists, including one summing up:

The meaning of life:

       While he plans the murder -- and his escape -- carefully, a sense of the inevitability of capture seems part of it from the beginning, too. Murder might be a temporary escape from the boredom and repetition of everyday life, a brief, violent imposition of a different kind of order, but the cycle can't be broken and he knows where it will lead.
       He murders a classmate whom he lures to his aunt's apartment, the thirty-seven stab wounds clear overkill, dumping her in a washing machine an act rife with symbolic meaning. (The murder and the tableau he left behind are repeatedly revisited, including in a reënactment and then in court testimony; they are almost comically horrific.)
       He goes on the run, though with little clear purpose except escape. He hasn't thought it fully through, only so far; he finds himself drawn to the one person he feels closer to, but doesn't find a haven there. He considers suicide, but isn't very good at it; the grim humor of his account has him recounting, after his failed attempt: "I was starving, I washed myself in the cold lake water and decided never to do that again.")
       Eventually he is caught, or lets himself get caught, taking the next inevitable step. He is coöperative but frustrates the authorities by not offering a satisfying motive for his outrageous deed -- and there, of course, is the crux of the novel: in what amounts to his final defeat, his last chance to escape the death penalty, the prosecutor's denunciation is, in fact, a complete vindication: with these condemning words he's accomplished exactly what he wanted:
Suddenly I can understand why people kill for money or desire. Compared to you, they are worthy of our respect ! They still operate according to society's norms and our normal way of thinking. But you ! You are an attack on our very way of life, our traditions and the beliefs we rely on to live.
       It's not like the murderer didn't have some qualms about his heinous deed -- especially about who he made his victim -- but he rationalizes these in staking the bigger claim:
I did regret killing her daughter in some ways, but if I hadn't committed a murder so intolerable to our hypocritical society, what would have been the point ?
       The narrator is a nasty piece of work (he's killed a couple of dogs along the way, too), but has moments of self-doubt. He attempts suicide, and lets himself be talked into going along -- at least for a while -- with some legal defenses of his deed. But ultimately he's true to his original self, set to see this through to the predictable end, without giving anyone the satisfaction of closure or meaning: the rationale for the act was to commit an act seen as entirely beyond understanding.
       A Yi presents the story stage by stage, each chapter starkly and simply announcing the next: 'A Beginning', 'Prelude', 'Build-up', 'Action', 'Execution', and so on. What also works well is that while the narrator has a clear plan and objective -- certainly initially -- he is nevertheless also impulsive, constantly reacting to others (often in an effort to confound their expectations), making him a more convincing (and interesting) figure than if he were purely monomaniacal.
       A Perfect Crime is one in a long line of novels of modern anomie, with a protagonist who decides on senseless murder as the only appropriate course of action that could possibly define him or give him some sort of purpose, but A Yi's contemporary Chinese spin on that familiar story is a solid variation on it -- and disturbingly convincing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 July 2015

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A Perfect Crime: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chinese author A Yi (阿乙) was born in 1976.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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