Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mystery Book Review: The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison

A Shan Tao Yun Mystery

Soho Crime (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-56947-579-2 (1569475792)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-579-9 (9781569475799)
Publication Date: June 2009
List Price: $24.00

Review: Shan Tao Yun tries to solve the murder of a woman who died in his arms, a woman Chinese officials claim could not have died because she was never there in the first place, in The Lord of Death, the 6th mystery in this series by Eliot Pattison.

The woman was an American, an expert climber and one who arranged tours to the Himalayas from China as opposed to from Nepal, which in turn brought in hard cash to the Chinese government overseeing, some might say occupying, the region. She had been shot in the company of a high-ranking Chinese minister, who was also killed in the same manner, when Shan comes across their car. Coincidentally, a bus carrying Tibetan monks overturns nearby. Realizing he cannot help the woman, but can aid the monks, Shan leaves the scene of the crime. He later learns his old prison commander, Colonel Tan, has been arrested for the murder of the Chinese minister but not the American woman, who officials say is off climbing somewhere. Shan is loathe to help is old enemy, but realizes Tan may be in a position to help him. Shan's only son, Ko, is in a mental hospital, about to be the subject of an "experiment" to cure him. If Shan can prove Tan did not kill the minister, Tan could arrange for the transfer of Ko into his custody. Ko wouldn't be free, but he would still be alive.

Pattison takes a fairly simple plot outline and develops the most extraordinary story around it, one that captures the reader's imagination. He's a master not only with words but with imagery. When everyone Shan meets says the American woman is alive, even those without an obvious political agenda, his frustration is apparent. "Most people were scared of ghosts because they were dead but Shan was becoming scared of this one because she would not stay dead." A former investigator for the government himself, Shan knows that Beijing will seek the truth, and act upon it, even if it doesn't become the official version of what happened. This is illustrative of some of the subtle modern politics involved in the story, which are juxtapositioned against the ancient ways and beliefs of the native Tibetans.

A subplot in The Lord of Death involving another American, a supplier of climbing equipment for foreign expeditions in Tibet, is based, according to an author's note, on a true World War II era mission by the United States to train native Tibetans in resisting the Chinese. It is expertly weaved into Shan's murder investigation and adds another layer of depth and intrigue to this outstanding mystery, one of the year's best.

Special thanks to Soho Press for providing a copy of The Lord of Death for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Shan Tao Yun is an exiled Chinese national and a former Beijing investigator on parole from the Tibetan gulag to which he had been consigned as punishment. He is ferrying a corpse on muleback over the slopes of Chomolungma—Everest—at the request of a local wisewoman who says the gods have appointed this task to him, when he encounters what looks like a traffic accident. A government bus filled with imprisoned illegal monks has overturned. Then Shan hears gunfire. Two women in an approaching sedan have been killed. One is the Chinese minister of tourism; the other, a blond Westerner, organizes climbing expeditions. Though she dies in his arms, Shan is later met with denials that this foreigner is dead.

Shan must find the murderer, for his recompense will be the life and sanity of his son, Ko, imprisoned in a Chinese “yeti factory” where men are routinely driven mad.

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