In The Shadow Pavilion, the fourth urban fantasy-mystery featuring unflappable Detective Inspector Wei Chen, British fantasist Liz Williams blends Chinese folklore, near-future technology and elements of classic police procedurals.
What inspired you to create these fanciful settings and characters?
It came about from a visit to Hong Kong. An old friend of mine works on the South China Morning Post, and at the time she was living on a houseboat moored in Deep Water Bay—we had to row out to it in a boat with only one oar! She was researching a book on murders in colonial Hong Kong, and she was dating a vice squad cop. With all the feng shui legends around the place—for example, the hotel overlooking the bay had an enormous square hole cut out of it so that the dragon that lived behind it could see the sea—I didn't really have a lot of work to do when I invented Singapore Three, Chen's home city.
What was it about Chinese folklore that appealed to you?
Chinese mythology is pretty curious: some is very alien to Western culture, but then some of it is oddly familiar. I didn't have to make up a great deal about the bureaucracies of Hell, for instance. And Hong Kong is full of very unusual stuff. There's a bank reputed to have an enormous crystal buried underneath it, and there are shops where you can buy paper replicas of expensive objects to burn as offerings for your dead relatives, so they can have those objects with them in the afterlife.
Why use detective characters like Chen and his demon partner, Zhu Irzh, to explore the relationship between Earth, Heaven and Hell?
I'd got tired of reading about the hard-boiled, loner private eye, and I liked the idea of having a middle-aged cop with a solid home life—although, well, his wife is a demon. And then I started thinking about how a vice squad cop in Hell would be expected to behave. Obviously, he'd have to promote vice, not stamp it out!
Where do you hope to take the series in the future?
I'm planning to take it back to a slightly more science fictional scenario in an upcoming book. The first novel had those elements, and I'd like to incorporate them with the fantasy elements again.