My rating: 2 of 5 stars
"Omit needless words," wrote William Strunk Jr. in The Elements of Style. It is a dictum that Eliot Pattison could profit by following. He seems to suffer from diarrhea of the pen or word processor. Words pour forth in great profusion, often repetitively and to very little effect. The words do not really seem to advance the narrative or provide enlightenment. They simply occupy space on the page. One would think that Pattison is being paid by the word.
Not only is he overly wordy but Pattison has certain writing tics that get under my skin. For example, the repetition of the descriptive phrase "the old Tibetan." This appears on practically every page of the book and sometimes more than once on the page. We get it. There are no young lamas, but find an alternative way of describing them, for Buddha's sake!
What irritates me most about this series is that I really, REALLY want to like it. I keep picking up the next entry in the series every few months in the hope that the execution might finally live up to the promise. So far, disappointment has been my only reward.
In every book, the former Beijing inspector Shan and his two friends and companions, the monks Gendun and Lokesh, wander endlessly over the mountains and through the caves of Tibet where every rock seems to have been painted with a sacred symbol of some deity or demon. They are repeatedly caught and beaten and tortured, but they persevere, with Shan investigating murders which the authorities don't pursue or don't even know about. Those ever-present deities and/or demons will somehow prove to be involved and, in the end, Shan will reveal all in a meandering narrative.
Oh, and also, there will be an American in the mix. The plots are really very predictable.
In this entry, Shan is summoned to a remote village (apparently, all villages in Tibet are remote) where a comatose man was found with two dead bodies. The headman of the village drew the conclusion that this man was the murderer and now they are waiting for him to wake up so they can execute him.
Almost immediately, Shan intuits that something is unusual about this man, but it is only when he finally wakes up that he is able to determine that the man, in fact, is not Tibetan but Navajo. He was in Tibet with his niece, a researcher investigating ancestral ties between the Navajo people and the Bon, ancient ancestors of the people of Tibet. She was seeking to prove that they were two branches of the same stream. Now she has disappeared and her uncle is seriously injured and accused of murder.
Shan sets out to discover what really happened on the mountain where the murders occurred and the Navajo man was injured. He quickly learns that these were not the first murders in the area. Indeed, there has been a pattern of murders here in recent years with the most curious feature of the crimes being that the hands of the victims are being removed by the murderer.
Shan's investigation reveals a tangled web of relationships between the unmapped mountain village, illegal gold miners, and, as always, corrupt officials in Lhasa and Beijing. How he puts all of this together to arrive at a solution to the murders and to again save Gendun and Lokesh involves lots of wandering and finally solving the riddle of Dragon Mountain, the place "where the world begins" in thunder and lightning.
By the last couple of chapters, I had lost interest and was scanning the pages pretty quickly, but I doubt that I missed anything truly significant.
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