A Perfect Crime is a fascinating, disturbing novella set in China (it is translated) about a Chinese teenager who decides to kill one of his classmates, the ‘perfect girl’ Kong Jie. The story follows the boy as he plans his murder, carries it out and then goes on the run, the police on his tail. All the while, you have the sense that the young teenager is firmly in control; Yi writes in the first person, so the narrative is strictly with the boy throughout, as he calmly contemplates his options once the crime has been committed: 1. keep running, 2. hand himself in , or 3. commit suicide (which he attempts, before deciding ‘never to do that again.’)
The story continues to the boy’s (we finally learn his name is Su, although it is barely mentioned) trial; we see his desire for the death penalty, and endure with him the relentless questioning of the police – they want to know why he did it. Of course they do. So do we all.
This is the real question of the novel. Why would a student lure his classmate to his house, strangle her and stab her thirty-seven times before leaving her ‘head down’ in a washing machine? The answer Yi gives us is startlingly, horribly simple: boredom. The book explores the issue of pointlessness; for the narrator, his life had become bleak, each day ‘as unchanging as the one that went before.’ He tells us that ‘time stood still, or moved achingly slowly, like poured concrete. Every day was death by drowning.’
What is fascinating about this book is how desperately everybody around the murderer wants to pinpoint some other reason for his crime. Nobody – not his mother, the victim’s mother, the judge, the police – wants to believe that he really did kill his classmate out of sheer boredom, in order to introduce excitement to his life, to give him the opportunity to play ‘cat and mouse.’ Instead, they come up with multiple reasons for the brutality: exam pressure, societal exclusion, robbery, rejection. It is chilling to read as the narrator coolly dismisses these reasons, outlines his original plan in merely nine words:
Funds: Ten grand.’
The Chinese boy reminded me a little of Kevin in Lionel Shriver’s best-selling We Need To Talk About Kevin, although I would argue A Perfect Crime takes an even bleaker look at humanity. The boy’s nineteen-year-old mindset is clearly depressed, yet the measured tone which the author uses gives him a real element of power and coherence which is totally at odds with his manic actions. The pace never lets up, and it is difficult to stop reading – one wants to shake the narrator in frustration (as do his prosecutors) but the ending of the book forces us to accept the truth, and then to digest it: the boy really did do this out of boredom. I think…