Chinese novelist Liu Yongbiao's tale of 'the writer who killed' turns out to be about himself

BEIJING (NYTIMES) - Looking back, the titles of his books said it all.

In the preface to his 2010 novel The Guilty Secret, Chinese author Liu Yongbiao expressed his desire to write a suspense-filled detective story about an alluring female writer who dodges arrest despite committing a string of murders.

"I came up with the idea after reading some detective novels and watching crime shows and movies," Liu wrote at the time. "The working title is The Beautiful Writer Who Killed."

But what was assumed to be a fictional crime story took a turn into reality last week when Liu, 53, was arrested on accusations of bludgeoning four people to death 22 years ago.

According to The Paper, a news website, Liu was arrested early last Friday at his home in Nanling County in the eastern province of Anhui.

"I've been waiting for you here all this time," Liu reportedly said to police when they arrived at his house.

The killings took place at a hostel in Huzhou, in neighbouring Zhejiang province, on a November night in 1995, according to a local security official quoted by the newspaper China Daily. Two men who spoke with Anhui accents checked in at the hostel, reportedly with the intention of robbing other guests, the official said.

But when one guest, surnamed Yu, caught them stealing, the two men were said to have killed the guest. To cover up their crimes, they then beat to death the couple that ran the hostel as well as their 13-year-old grandson, according to China Daily.

Liu was allegedly one of the two men who spoke with Anhui accents.

The police in Anhui opened an investigation into the killings, but the trail soon went cold.

"The biggest challenge was the suspects and the victims had no previous relationship," said Mr Xu Zhicheng, one of the local investigators, according to The Paper. "It was very difficult for us to follow the vine to find the melon."

During his more than three-decade-long career, Liu found modest success as a writer.

In 2013, he was accepted into the official China Writers' Association, and he was the recipient of a prestigious local literary prize, according to The Paper.

But Legal Evening News, a Chinese newspaper, reported that Liu told police that, for years after the killings, he found it difficult to sleep at night because of what he had done.

Equipped with new DNA technology, police reopened the case in June. They began to zero in on Liu and his suspected accomplice, a man surnamed Wang. Several hours after taking Liu into custody, police found and arrested Wang, now 64, in Shanghai.

An arresting officer Chen Hongyue told The Paper that by the time police came to take Liu away, the writer had already prepared a one-page letter to give to his wife.

"I have been waiting for this day for 20 years, and now, it has finally come to an end," he reportedly wrote. "Now I can free myself of this spiritual torment I've had for so long."