Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Jade Dragon Mountain, by Elsa Hart

This is the first of Hart’s two (so far) mysteries featuring Li Du, an imperial librarian in China in the early 1700s.  He has been exiled by the emperor, the second in the line of Manchu emperors, and is wandering towards the Tibet to leave the country.  Entering the town of Dayan, the older name for present-day Lijiang on China’s southwest border, he is surprised to learn that the emperor himself is also on the way to this far-flung frontier town to celebrate the spring festival and bring forth an eclipse of the sun.  Jesuits, able astronomers and virtually the only Westerners allowed in China at that time, have tipped the Emperor off to the event and he seeks to consolidate his power with this display of commanding the heavens.  In Dayan, Li Du pays a visit to his cousin, who is the magistrate there and is eager to impress the emperor with his preparations for this grand display and earn a position closer to the Imperial City.  His consort has designs of her own.  Also angling for access to power is a representative of the East India Company who wants to discredit the Jesuits and gain influence in this hidden kingdom.  A murder occurs and Li Du is drawn into the complex situation.  Hart, who will discuss her Li Du mysteries at the April Friends of the Library meeting, has lived in many interesting parts of the world and wrote this novel in Lijiang.  It is a fascinating and well-written book about a time, place, and culture I knew little about.  I look forward to reading her second book and to hearing her speak.  321 pp.

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