Bones of the Earth

Mysterious Book Report No. 383

by John Dwaine McKenna

Inspector Shan Tao Yun was a senior detective on the Beijing Police Department until, “I investigated the wrong people and they sent me to prison in Lhadrung,” (Western Tibet the notorious work camp number 404), “because the death rate is so high there.  But the governor had a problem.  I helped him, unofficially, and to show his gratitude he pulled me out of the hard labor camp.”

Now, in his tenth murder mystery, Bones of the Earth, (Minotaur Books, $27.99, 344 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-16968-6) by Eliot Pattison, the indomitable Inspector Shan is a lowly constable  consigned to the small  town of Yangkar, in the far  west of Tibet . . . where a massive hydroelectric dam is being constructed.

As the novel begins, Shan is ordered by Colonel Tan, the county governor and overseer of the 404 prison camp, to attend an official function in Lhadrung, the county seat.  There, he is forced to watch an execution.  The dead man, a Tibetan engineer on the Five Claws Dam project, was accused of corruption, and summarily shot and killed in front of twenty official witnesses by the project manager, who didn’t bother to have a trial.  Shan thinks he may have witnessed a murder, not an execution.

But Shan is trying to keep a low profile, lest he run afoul of the authorities in Beijing again . . . perhaps fatally this time.  So, when Colonel Tan hands Shan a special deputies badge and says, “I need your help,” even though it puts him in a precarious spot, he can’t refuse, because Tibet is one of the most sacred places on earth.  It’s where more monasteries have been built by more different religions, all in harmony with each other, than anywhere else on the planet.  The valley that’s being transformed into a reservoir by the Chinese is sacred to the Tibetans.  It holds thousands of religious objects, deposited by many different cultures over thousands of years.  The mountain overlooking the valley is known as Gekho’s Roost.  It’s home to one of the most powerful gods in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, who’s known as the Shaker of Mountains.

As the allegations and denials of corruption at the Five Claws site increases, more murders take place and the oppression of the Tibetan people reaches a crescendo in this finely crafted and carefully written novel, the diligent Inspector Shan must protect the Tibetans, solve the crimes, help absolve Colonel Tan of complicity in the widening dam scandal, all while keeping himself in the clear.  It’s a tall order but as Shan himself remarks, “One thing I’ve learned in the Tibet we live in, is that everyone has their own unique path to enlightenment.”  This is the rarest of novels . . . it will entertain, educate, enthrall, and yes, enlighten every reader!

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