Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Librarian, Storyteller on Murder Case in 18th-Century China

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Librarian, Storyteller on Murder Case in 18th-Century China

Article excerpt

An 18th-century librarian might seem an unlikely choice to be the star of a series of detective novels, but this quiet man of action, Li Du, proves to be a wizard at solving crimes, even some that have not yet happened. Readers who like their mysteries steeped in history will enjoy "Jade Dragon Mountain," which brings together the clashing interests of factions seeking influence in a relatively new dynasty in China.

In this murder mystery, the second Qing emperor is coming to the frontier city of Dayan (in what is now Yunnan province) to command a solar eclipse. Li Du knows that celestial events are generally calculated by the Jesuits who attend the court, these scholars being among the few foreigners permitted to enter the country.

Pieter van Dalen, a Jesuit, is staying at the estate of the local magistrate, Tulishen, who is charged with organizing the emperor's visit. Also bound for the magistrate's mansion is Sir Nicholas Gray from the East India Co., laden with tributes and seeking trade privileges. Li Du, who has been on the road since his exile years earlier for associating with dissenters, arrives at the same destination to register with the pompous Tulishen, who happens to be his cousin.

Li Du chafes at renewing their uncomfortable acquaintance, but agrees to stay when he is asked to lend his skills at the mansion. He strikes up a friendship with Pieter van Dalen and his recent traveling companion, Hamza, an exotic teller of tales to whom the truth is relative.

The friendship with Pieter proves to be a short one. After an entertainment at the mansion, the priest dies. His end is so quick that his teapot is still warm when his body is found in his quarters.

Li Du is on the case, pressured to solve it before the emperor arrives, but the urgency of the countdown doesn't always ignite the plot. Without consistent suspense, the pacing of the story lags at times, and the thread of Li Du's motivation can be lost as circumstances change. …

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