"Golden Chance," by S.J. Rozan, in Ellery Queen's Magazine, December 2012.
EQMM's last issue of 2012 opens with something different from my buddy S.J. Rozan The story is set in a small village in Western China, where Lo Pen-wei, "a disheveled lump of a man," investigates crime for the Public Security Bureau. He is a shrewd, cheerful, Columbo-type cop, the only one of his fellows who bothered to learn the language when he moved to the territory of the Uighurs. "Lo conceded that... for official interviews and instructions Mandarin would suffice; but other conversations -- for example, those he would be most interested in overhearing in the streets -- would not be held in Mandarin."
As the story opens Lo is investigating vandalism of the office of the Housing Commission, which he does in a typically indirect way: by playing a chess-like game with his shopkeeper friend Sadiq. In the course of the game he learns that the people are upset about government plans that would destroy a local landmark. He also learns that his friend has three marriage-age daughters and no money for doweries. Possibly he can solve all the problems with cunning plan. And if he can get one more corrupt official out of office, so much the better.
Mystery stories tend to flourish in democracy and not do so well in dictatorships where no one has faith in justice being done. (And there is my bland generalization for the day; glad to have it over with.) But Rozan has created an interesting character and a believable setting. Perhaps we will hear more about Mr. Lo.