Monday, December 01, 2014

Gift List, Dec. 1: SOUL OF THE FIRE, Eliot Pattison

Here we are, on the first day of America's big spending month. Would it be awful to get two of something -- one to give as a valued present, the other as a gift to yourself? While you think that over, here's why SOUL OF THE FIRE might be worth getting twice.

1. It's the eighth book in Pattison's Inspector Shan series, which began with the Edgar Award winner, The Skull Mantra. Shan Tao Yun is one of the most richly crafted characters in today's mystery series: a Chinese functionary who discovers his true self, and lifelong commitment, when he meets and studies with persecuted Tibetan monks in Chinese-occupied Tibet. Shan's dual existence -- recognizable as an ethnic Chinese (in exile) and pursuing a mission to preserve the religion and lives of the district -- give him exceptional access to resolving desperate situations, while also putting him into danger.

2. Shan's Tibetan Buddhism and, more importantly, his love for the monks, especially his good friend Lokeah, deepen over the course of the series. He has a son, for whom he also makes sacrifices (the son is almost peripheral in SOUL OF THE FIRE; Lokesh is front and center), but it's the way he chooses to take risks and make tough choices for the Tibetans overall that keep deepening him.

3. SOUL OF THE FIRE takes the detail of monks who set themselves aflame in deadly protest, and ramps it up to where Shan's full intelligence, passion, and physical stamina are necessary to prevent a powerful Chinese Public Security officer from destroying an entire region.

4. Pattison brings in a remarkable theme this time that focuses on the Dalai Lama and his continued leadership, as well as on a young woman and her own group of hard-fighting, hard-learning rebels hiding in the mountains. The tension ramps up to breathtaking, and Shan takes his place as part of a much larger picture of how committed people struggle to maintain their values.

5. SOUL OF THE FIRE not only puts Shan at risk and moves through complex stresses and a magnificent landscape of mountain and heart, but binds the plot threads into a tender and surprising finale that clearly opens up more directions for future books in the series.

So, if you're not quite convinced about getting two copies yet, go ahead and get your first one; then let me know whether you find yourself hanging onto that one, and getting another for someone you care about. It's the season.

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