This week’s Maria’s staff pick: Jade Mountain Dragon, by Elsa Hart

by Jaime Cary

Jade Mountain Dragon, by Elsa Hart

I don’t normally read mysteries. I often find that I’m extremely disappointed if I can guess the ending; I generally don’t respect the characters on an intellectual level (after Sherlock Holmes, everyone else is so-so); and I often feel like I’m reading the script to a “Blues Clues” episode. This was not the case with this book. It was extremely well written. Elsa Hart blends a spectacular cast of characters in this mystery set during a tumultuous China in the 1700s. Mixing several different characters from several different countries, it draws from the clashes that arise when two countries with different customs meet and have difficulty communicating.

Our hero is Li Du, an exiled librarian traveling through the outskirts of China. In the town of Dayan, just south of Tibet, a Jesuit priest is murdered in the magistrate’s house, days before the emperor will visit and summon an eclipse of the Sun. Li Du must find the killer before the eclipse and salvage his honor; if he fails, the disappointment of the emperor could be fatal. Through the story, he encounters a fantastic cast of characters: a storyteller from Egypt, or perhaps Arabia, a merchant from the Dutch East India Company, a nervous botanist and a mistress who is as cunning as she is beautiful.

I really liked this book. The characters were fantastic, the use of place and historical political tensions added to the story and the plot kept me guessing (there is a fantastic twist in the last 20 pages). I highly recommend this book. It’s something light and fun while still being engaging and exciting.

— Jaime Cary

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