When the murder of a woman is reported to the Shanghai police while Inspector Chen is on vacation, Sergeant Yu is forced to take charge of the investigation.
The victim, Yin Lige, a novelist known for her banned book, has been found dead in her tiny, humble room off the stairwell of a converted multi-family house. It seems that only a neighbor could have committed the crime, for the building is kept locked at night. But there is no apparent motive.
Sergeant Yu tries to unravel the reclusive woman’s past and begins to realize it may have larger political implications. The Cultural Revolution might be more than 30 years in the past, but its effects can still be felt at every level of Chinese society.