Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
  • ISBN-10: 1250072328 - Hardcover $26.99
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (September 1, 2015), 336 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.
Li Du was an imperial librarian. Now he is an exile. Arriving in Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border, he is surprised to find it teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. All have come for a spectacle unprecedented in this remote province: an eclipse of the sun commanded by the Emperor himself.
When a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered in the home of the local magistrate, blame is hastily placed on Tibetan bandits. But Li Du suspects this was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can't keep his own story straight.
Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the mountain pass that will take him out of China forever. He must choose whether to leave, and embrace his exile, or to stay, and investigate a murder that the town of Dayan seems all too willing to forget.

Jade Dragon Mountain is a murder mystery set in an outer province of Qing Dynasty China. Elsa Hart takes us to the closed world of ancient China full of palace intrigues, hereditary enemies, scheming foreign visitors and plots against the Emperor. The Emperor is planning his visit to the remote Southern province to coincide with the eclipse, during his scheduled public appearance, the Emperor will order the moon to cover the sun, give evidence of the Emperor's ability to control the world.

The local magistrate and his wife have been preparing for the Emperor's visit for months from collecting the linens, porcelain, supplies, and gifts for the Emperor and his entourage to coordinating with the various local officials and foreign visitors. This Emperor is fascinated by astronomy and the sciences that the Jesuits and other foreigners have mastered, so the tribute from the foreign visitors will play a huge role in the Emperor's visit.

When an older Jesuit astronomer is found dead in his room, the local magistrate Tulishen calls upon his exiled cousin Li Du to determine whether murder was committed and who might have done it. It is critically important that the culprit, if any, be captured before the Emperor reaches the area. The exiled cousin, Li Du, had served as the imperial librarian, but his impolitic actions led to his banishment and the disgrace of their family. Tulishen, Li Du's politically savy cousin resents Li Du's academic achievements and is quick to find ways to show his superior position. Li Du knows that his new task can lead to much more beyond slights and petty humiliations, that there is a danger to his person as well as to those innocents that might be conveniently accused.

Li Du is a fascinating, sympathetic lead character and I thoroughly enjoyed following him as he traveled around ancient China piecing together unusual alliances and uncovering deceptions. Though you won't come across the usual violence and large body count, Jade Dragon Mountain is an unusual and fun read!

About the Author:
Elsa Hart was born in Rome, Italy, where her father was the foreign correspondent for U.S. News & World Report.  She lived in Russia, Finland, the US, and the Czech Republic before moving back to the US for college and law school.  Hart lived in China for three years while her husband completed field research, where she researched and wrote Jade Dragon Mountain. She now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, where she works for the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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