Open main menu

The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson

Derek Sumner's headless body was found in a dubious area of Beijing. He was the Chinese representative for Kelness, a UK-based company which exported steel to China. Some employees of the company wondered if he'd gone native when he suggested that the Kelness plant should be sold to the Chinese, dismantled and re-erected in China where the steel could be produced for a fraction of the price.

The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson

Buy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson at or

Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A well written mystery which highlights the contrasts in modern Beijing and with characters you'll come to care for. Recommended by The Bookbag.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 324 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230014435

Share on: Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Instagram

On the night before his body was found a Beijing private investigator, Sung, heard a piercing scream and found himself attempting to rescue a boy with only one arm from a burning tent. It was only when he had hold of the boy that he realised that both of them were soaked in blood and the boy was holding a knife. The boy wouldn't let go of Sung and they ran from the blazing tent with witnesses screaming that Sung was a murderer and would kill the boy.

Robin Ballantyne is a journalist. She'd been covering the economic problems at the Kelness plant and when it was heard that Derek Sumner had been murdered she was sent to China to cover the story - leaving her own twin children in the care of her lover. On her first day in Beijing she sees the body of a young woman being pulled from the frozen lake near the remains of the tent.

Oh, this is quite a story, told alternately in the first person by Robin Ballantyne and Sung's story which is told in the third person. It's cleverly done, keeping the momentum of both stories going without ever confusing the two. Catherine Samson lives in Beijing and it's probably this intimate knowledge of the city which allows her to write with such confidence in both voices. She captures the contrasts in the city as the desperately poor live cheek by jowl with the obscenely rich and corruption is a part of everyday life, but most of all she shows how little a westerner understands the Chinese and their way of life.

I found myself willing Sung and Ballantyne to succeed. They worked together, towards the same ends despite the fact that they only meet briefly and have no means of communicating. Ballantyne needed an interpreter and Sung speaks no English. Gradually other deaths of women are uncovered despite the attempts of the authorities to keep them quiet. The characters are all rounded, alive in your mind as you read. For me Ballantyne's interpreter, Blue Tang, epitomises young Chinese people, wanting to do their best, knowledgeable about wider issues but acutely aware of the all-pervasiveness of the Chinese authorities.

Sampson highlights the social issues too - the beggars in China for whom a child with only one arm is an asset, the workers in the UK who will lose everything if the Kelness plant is moved to China, but it's the picture of a small boy sent to the city with his sister to earn some money who then sees his sister murdered that stays with me. It's a book that stays in your mind long after you've finished reading.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If you like this type of book then you might also enjoy Skin Privilege by Karin Slaughter and Stephen L Carter's New England White. We can also recommend The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise.

Please share on: Facebook Facebook, Follow us on Twitter Twitter and Follow us on Instagram Instagram

Buy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson at


Like to comment on this review?

Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.