Author: Eliot Pattison
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN: 10- 0312656041

ISBN: 13- 978-0312656041

 

Pacification is government-speak for repression. Governments who misuse this word annex weaker countries and along the way, build and fill gulags/prison camps with anyone who disagrees with their illegal land grabs. Never is this more evident than China’s takeover of Tibet; a poor country, sure, but with a population of gentle spiritual people, sustained by an ancient culture and the Buddhist lamas who walk the countryside ministering to city dwellers and the isolated villages. Gentle and spiritual don’t count for much in the modern world and Tibetans were unable to defend their country against the expansionist actions of the Chinese government which began in 1949 and continues to this present day. Human rights denied, they are now second class citizens in their own country. Equality of education, employment and housing only possible if you are a Chinese immigrant, Tibetans can only practice their religion under the aegis of government registered lamas.

Mandarin Gate, the latest in Edgar Award winning writer, Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan mystery series, is set in the Tibetan countryside amidst the turmoil and violence of the Chinese occupation. The seventh in the series it’s my debut Inspector Shan read and curious as to how it measured up to the previous six books, I did something I rarely do before reading/reviewing a book – read other reviewer’s comments. The general consensus being that Mandarin Gate was as good if not better than the previous books, there was an ongoing debate about the price; some reviewers thought it was too high. As I don’t believe price is, or should be of any relevance when reviewing a book, I was a bit bemused by the amount of space some reviewers devoted to Mandarin Gate’s cost.

So, is it any good? It certainly is – Eliot Pattison’s book succeeds on all fronts – intriguing mystery/political thriller with an unusual setting and plot, I liked Mandarin Gate and its main character, Inspector Shan, a lot. 

In previous books, Shan Tao Yun was a Beijing Police Inspector but as sometimes happens in public service, he offended a high ranking government official and not long after, woke up in a prison camp. Released from internment, Shan begins life anew in the mountains of Tibet, his companions: outlawed Buddhist monks. Prevented from returning to his home and family in Beijing, Shan is employed as a lowly Inspector of Irrigation and Sewer Ditches. When you think about it, not a bad job for a policeman; both occupations require a lot of digging before an investigation is completed.

During the course of his work Shan discovers a multiple murder scene in the ruins of an old Buddhist convent. Two men and a woman have been killed, the men’s bodies horribly mutilated. The three bodies, lying in a pool of blood, have been arranged in a U shaped pattern, the woman at the feet of the men. One man’s head has been severed, the other man’s head has no face, the flesh raw and bloodied from the hacking blows of a heavy blade. Despite the murderer’s efforts to disfigure the men’s bodies, Shan is sure they are Chinese nationals. A bullet hole in the woman’s chest, Shan realizes she is Tibetan and examines her clothing; under her work clothes he recognizes the maroon robe of a Buddhist nun. At the ancient place of worship, a Buddhist nun has been murdered and placed under the feet of two Chinese men. Why? Shan has no time to conjecture on the motive behind these savage killings, the police have arrived and he must flee or face imprisonment.

A nearby village has been turned into an internment camp for Tibetan dissidents. Shan knows any investigation he starts to get justice for the victims slaughtered amidst the convent ruins will have to be done very carefully indeed, lest he join the dissidents in the gulag. An American woman who witnessed the murders in jeopardy, Shan steers a dangerous course through the murky waters of government pacification policy and the machinations of local criminals to uncover the truth – a rare commodity in Chinese controlled Tibet. 

Absorbed in the story, I especially liked the glimpses of Tibetan culture and descriptions of the countryside that Eliot Pattison interleaved throughout Mandarin Gate’s exciting plot. For anyone's money (thought the price was quite moderate for such excellent writing) Mandarin Gate is a good read.

 

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