THE SKULL MANTRA by Eliot Pattison

THE SKULL MANTRA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Pattison debuts with this superb whodunit that leads an alienated Chinese detective to a cabal of hypocritical bureaucrats, meditating monks, and meddlesome Americans in contemporary Tibet. Serving an indefinite prison term in a Tibetan slave-labor camp for having embarrassed a high-ranking Party minister, former Public Security Investigator Shan Tao Yun is compelled by Colonel Tan, the fastidious Party boss of a remote county, to fabricate a report. The report will explain to Beijing the inexplicable murder of the local prosecutor, whose decapitated corpse was found buried near a road that must be completed before the American tourist season. The Buddhist monks in the camp, though, would rather be tortured or shot than work on a road where the prosecutor’s “hungry ghost” is lurking, especially since they believe the murder was committed by Tamden, a supernatural demon bent on avenging Chinese persecution. Shan knows that failure to appease the Party’s perverse sense of justice would make things only worse for the Tibetan people, whose religious faith he yearns to understand. Like Arkady Renko in Gorky Park, Shan finds that his effort to hide the truth paradoxically leads him to buried secrets within the Party hierarchy itself’secrets hidden in ancient Tibetan caves in an American mining project whose naive scientists claim to want only what is best for Tibet. Alternately thwarted and helped by Yeshe, a brainwashed former monk, and by a cynical Chinese prison guard, Shan develops a marvelously complicated vision of an intricate, defiantly fatalistic nation inseparable from the beautifully bleak landscape that has shaped it. He also discovers a surprising dignity and compassion in some of his fellow Chinese, who remain enslaved to the venalities of leaders past and present. Breathlessly suspenseful tour of a dangerous and exotic landscape, where opposing forces, political and magical, give way to an eerie, mystical truth.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20478-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Minotaur
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999




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