Tuesday, July 23, 2013

MANDARIN GATE, An Inspector Shan Mystery by Eliot Pattison

"The end of time was starting in Tibet." That's what the Buddhist monks, the old lamas, around Shan asserted, as Chinese occupation of their "autonomous territory" continued to bring political oppression -- and punishment and death to the believers. For Shan, the Chinese bureaucrat turned prisoner and then uneasily paroled in Tibet, what the lamas said might be true. But did that mean he should let the occupiers harrass and kill his friends?

In the titles before this one -- the Edgar Award-winning Skull Mantra, then Bone Mountain, Beautiful Ghosts, Water Touching Stone, Prayer of the Dragon, and The Lord of Death -- Shan's determination to protect his friends has meant repeated capture and torture for him. The meditation and other routes to inner equanimity, even laughter, that he learned from the lamas helped him to sustain his loyalty and the physical pain he's endured. Then again, there's the peril his grown son remains in, such that any independent action by Shan can mean the death of his imprisoned son. We readers have seen Shan's determination and integrity tested repeatedly in this situation.

But now -- is the world ending? The shocking death of one of the monks as the book opens might be evidence toward "Yes."

Shan's uneasy position as one who can read the evidence of death, but also grasp the ways in which the worst of the Chinese are spiritually dead, pulls him into investigating a vanished monastery, hidden monks and nuns, and corruption among the Chinese army officials. A killing of three people, including a Tibetan nun, turns out to relate to a government plan that's as brutal as it is powerful, and Shan must stop it, as well as protecting an American woman who's witnessed some of the underlying puzzle. Time and again, he needs to act on the potent scrap of wisdom he has shared with his son, Ko: Push down your fear. It is the greatest power a prisoner can have.

MANDARIN GATE paints the grimmest portrait that author Eliot Pattison has ever offered of what takes place in Tibet today. At the same time, ironically, it also engages with spiritual strengths and teachings more fully than any of the earlier novels. As Shan races from one imperiled friend to the next, he rarely doubts what he must do. And the tension of the book steadily increases, as more risks must be taken.

In his Author's Note at the end of the book, Pattison writes, "Tales of those who have been thus abandoned by history are so plentiful at the roof of the world that they almost seem ingrained in the landscape. While there is much ugliness to be found in the behavior of the government in today's Tibet, the power of that rugged landscape sometimes seems to eclipse it -- and certainly the stark beauty of their land is only enhanced by the enduring strength of the Tibetan people.

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MEET ELIOT PATTISON at Kingdom Books on Sunday July 28 at 7 pm; or if you can't be here, reserve a book or two, signed, and we'll ship them to you the next day. Also featured in this event is Pattison's newest book in his Bone Rattler series (see review tomorrow).

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