Review by John for Mandarin Gate by Eliot Pattison.
John’s quick take: An elegant and literary whodunit, set against the backdrop of China’s brutal crushing of Tibetan society and beliefs.
John’s description: Shan used to be a police inspector in Beijing, but was imprisoned in a remote Tibetan jail after he ran afoul of a powerful figure in the Chinese Government. After being unofficially released, he has to remain in Tibet without status or official identity, unable to return home to Beijing. He now lives among outlawed Buddhist monks, who he comes to admire and love.
While doing menial work as an inspector of irrigation and sewer ditches, he comes across a horrific crime scene, two unidentified men and a Tibetan nun murdered and displayed in a strange tableau in the grounds on an old Buddhist temple. Unable to prevent himself from getting involved, he soon realizes that the Chinese police seem more intent on covering up facts rather than solving the crime.
When the evidence leads Shan to a new internment camp for Tibetan dissidents, he finds himself in grave danger. While trying to find justice for the victims, he now has to navigate between the people running the camp, a local criminal gang, various different Chinese police and army factions, and the Chinese governments’ rabid pacification teams who are trying to stamp out local Tibetan customs and belief systems.
John’s thoughts: This was a very good read, a combination of a complex and interesting whodunit and a damning indictment of China’s treatment of Tibet and its people. Set in the remote and beautiful Tibetan countryside, you also get to learn a lot about Tibet’s traditional and gentle Buddhist communities.
The book is filled with many complex and interesting characters, starting with Shan himself who is torn between his personal beliefs, seeking justice, protecting his new-found Tibetan friends and trying not to endanger his imprisoned son. Among others featured in the story are peaceful monks, one of whom mysteriously commits suicide, Chinese intellectuals who have been banished to Tibet, and a Chinese Lieutenant who starts to help Shan despite the dangers involved.
The plot twists and turns and you cannot see how things are going to develop; though if I do have one small grumble about the book, the ending is almost too neat. But I’m being a bit churlish – this is a good read and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes complex whodunits and/or anyone with an interest in Tibet and what is happening to the beleaguered country. I’d rate this book four stars.
Minotaur Books | November 2012 | Hardcover | 320 pages