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Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

Anyone who has been around this blog for long will know that Eliot Pattison is one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers.  I look forward to new additions to both his Bone Rattler and his Inspector Shan Tao Yun Mystery series.  “Skeleton God” is the ninth in the Inspector Shan series, and it is perhaps the best one yet because of the depth that it plumbs into the Tibetan culture and psyche.

His protagonist, Shan Tao Yun, is a Chinese former police inspector from Beijing who has been banished to the hinterlands of Tibet for many years.  Shan has taken his banishment as an opportunity to get to know and understand the Tibetan people and their traditions.  Shan has been through a lot. He has spent time at hard labor in a Tibetan prison camp.  He has been a closely watched road inspector. He is now the police inspector for a small Tibetan town that has been partly repopulated by Chinese nationals. He now has the problem of getting the Tibetans in the surrounding community to trust him even though he now wears the uniform of a Chinese policeman.

The people that Shan wants to know better over the course of “Skeleton God” are the “ferals,” the Tibetan people who have refused to give an oath of loyalty to the Chinese government and have been forced out of their homes because of their lack of fealty to China.  These ferals are keepers of the ruins of old Buddhist shrines and monestaries.  One particular retired Chinese general, Lau, is dead-set on wiping out all of these ferals and taking any remaining gold or other treasure from these holy sites.  Shan is dead-set upon preserving as much of the old Tibetan culture as he can without forfeiting his own life or endangering the life of his son, who is now in the same prison Shan inhabited for many years.  Shan has somewhat of a protector in the form of Colonel Tan, the governor of Lhadrung County. Tan is a very complex anti-hero who is sometimes very helpful and at other times very cruel and thoughtless.

Skeleton God” provides the reader with much to think about: the cruel way Tibetan culture is being stamped out by the Chinese overlords; the corruption that goes on within the ranks of the Chinese rulers in Tibet; how the need for freedom serves as an enduring beacon of light for the human spirit in not only the Tibetan people but also many of the Chinese and many of the people from around the world who risk their lives to travel to that country.

I have spoken in the past with Eliot Pattison about his experiences in Tibet and I know that through his fictional characters and the situations that they find themselves entwined in, there is a lot of cultural accuracy and historical fact.  Pattison’s Inspector Shan series is important for anyone to read who has an interest in Tibet and the Tibetan people–and that should be all of us!

Skeleton God” is highly recommended.

Reviewed with a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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Review of The Lord of Death by Eliot Pattison

“The Lord of Death” is the 6th in Eliot Pattison’s Shan mystery series.  He is the Edgar Award-winner for his first Shan novel, “The Skull Mantra.”

Shan Yao Tun is an undocumented Chinese exile in Tibet living under a brutal Chinese regime.  He has made his living helping with foreign mountain climbing expeditions on Everest and other Tibetan peaks, and yet at any time he can be arrested for being an undocumented alien.

The main mission in this book is to get Shan’s son, Ko, transferred out of the ‘yeti factory,” a hospital prison where the Chinese perform medical and biological experiments on live human subjects, and to get him back into a “normal” prison gulag environment.

Shan also solves a number of mysteries along the way in “The Lord of Death” including solving the deaths of a famous Nepalese climber, a Chinese bureaucrat and a pretty female American climber.

He must also try to save a band of monks who have been rousted from their “gompa” or remote monastery hide-out.  To help the monks escape to Nepal or India Shan had to get the help of an American mountain climbing organizer, some Chinese officals, and even a Tibetan police officer. The trade-offs he had to make with the Chinese officials, especially in order to get his son released from the “yeti factory,” makes for particularly interesting insights into how business is done in occupied Tibet.

Pattison obviously is an excellent scholar of Chinese and Tibetan philosophy and culture, and of Buddhism. He makes it al make sense to the western outsider.

Pattison’s writing is fresh and exciting.  He really makes the reader feel a part of the culture and to emphathize with the people who are trying to survive in a brutal environment and under an intolerant regime.

I want to go back and read others in this series and look forward to reading the next in the saga of Shan and his Tibetan experiences.

Liz Nichols

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