Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mystery Book Review: Prayer of the Dragon by Eliot Pattison

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written a review of Prayer of the Dragon by Eliot Pattison. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Prayer of the Dragon by Eliot PattisonBuy from Amazon.com
Prayer of the Dragon by Eliot Pattison
A Shan Tao Yun Mystery

Soho Crime (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-479-6 (1569474796)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-479-2 (9781569474792)
Publication Date: December 2007
List Price: $24.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): Summoned to a remote village from the hidden lamasery where he lives, Shan, formerly an investigator in Beijing, must save a comatose man from execution for two murders in which the victims’ arms have been removed. Upon arrival, he discovers that the suspect is not Tibetan but Navajo. The man has come with his niece to seek ancestral ties between their people and the ancient Bon. The recent murders are only part of a chain of deaths. Together with his friends, the monks Gendun and Lokesh, Shan solves the riddle of Dragon Mountain, the place “where world begins.”

Review: Eliot Pattison's fifth mystery to feature exiled investigator San Tao Yun, Prayer of the Dragon, is a mesmerizing tale of murder and deception, set in a remote region of Tibet.

Fearful of drawing the attention of the official government in Beijing, Shan, a former government official who was once condemned to a Tibetan gulag but "allowed" to escape, is summoned to Drango, a small village at the base of the sacred Sleeping Dragon Mountain in Tibet, to investigate a series of grisly murders in which the victims' hands had been severed and removed from the scene of the crime. A man who had descended from the mountain covered in blood is the only suspect, but he is a foreigner: a Navajo from America. Blackmailed into finding the killer, Shan must also discover the motive for the murders. But the secrets of Sleeping Dragon Mountain are not easily learned and danger precedes Shan's every step.

One just doesn't read Prayer of the Dragon; one participates with Shan on his extraordinary quest for the truth. This is not a book to be read quickly. The atmospheric setting and crisply written narrative are meant to be savored. It is relatively long at over 350 pages, but there are few unnecessary passages. And the plot is fairly complex. At some point, however, the mystery of the murders becomes somewhat secondary, replaced by the wonder and awe of the mountain and its centuries of history. Shan's journey is fraught with peril along the Bon kora, the ancient path to the summit, and the certainty of the unknown affects both Shan and the reader.

Here's a typical, beautifully written, almost lyrical paragraph from early in the book:

As great as the mystery of the killer's identity was the mystery of the victims'. [Shan's friend] Lokesh would insist that the spirits of the dead, like those of all murdered men, still lurked nearby. Shan found himself scanning the darkened slope. He would have welcomed a conversation with a ghost. His first question would be the one that had gnawed at him since visiting the death site the first time, when he'd seen the lightning snake and a portion of a little wooden figure. Why were these Tibetan things being done in non-Tibetan ways?

Much later, when Shan is heading out, he tells a companion, "Someone once asked Lokesh what I do. He told the man I am a confessor of ghosts. It's the best description I have ever heard. In my experience the only people who can be relied upon always to tell the truth are the dead."

There are many intriguing aspects of the story that add complexity to the plot. One is the potential historical link between the Navajo and the Bon and how it plays into the motivation of some of the characters. Another is the political climate of Tibet and the conflict between the official government in Beijing and the officially unofficial government of Tibetan villages. Yet a third is in the characters themselves which are wonderfully and uniquely drawn and frequently behave in not quite expected ways.

The climax has a bit of an Indiana Jones feel to it but the final chapter is a contextually fitting and appropriate conclusion to a most remarkable book.

Prayer of the Dragon is a captivating experience. It is one of the year's best mysteries.

Special thanks to Soho Press for providing a copy of Prayer of the Dragon for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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