The discovery of a murdered monk prompts a scholar to defer an odyssey of self-discovery to search for justice, unearthing even deeper truths.
In early 18th-century China, Li Du, the exiled former librarian to the Chinese emperor, attaches himself to a company of muleteers headed north. The discovery of an elderly monk’s corpse on the path provides an unwanted complication. Li Du and Kalden, the caravan’s leader, continue to the manor that’s their destination, where a salon of guests awaits. The head of the household, Dosa, seems suspicious but still offers his hospitality. In fact, he knew the deceased monk, Dhamo. Li Du feels compelled to learn more about Dhamo and his death. The consensus is that he killed himself, though one guest suggests that he was the victim of a demon. Li Du’s intellectual curiosity bumps up against the fervor of the assembled company, but he determines to investigate discreetly on his own. His discoveries during a visit to Dhamo’s studio lead him away from the presumption of suicide. Li Du finds an ally in Hamza, a caravan member whose authoritative demeanor earns the respect of the assembled company and whose mesmerizing yarn-spinning gives Li Du an opportunity to slip away and investigate further. In peeling away the layers of the mystery, Li Du also learns a great deal about regional customs, history, and philosophy.
The second appearance for Hart’s hero (Jade Dragon Mountain, 2015) rests firmly on romantic notions of the solitary scholar and intellectual curiosity. Elegantly written, though not to all tastes.