Friday, August 15, 2008


I was not surprised at the stunning opening ceremony to the Beijing Olympics after all totalitarian regimes do mass displays very well and so what if some of the fireworks were computer generated.  
Appearance and creating the perfect impression is everything and we had the spectacle of the pretty Lin Miaoke miming the words of Ode to the Motherland which was being sung by the less pretty [in the eyes of the officials] Yang Peiji. 

I am reading The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison which as well as being a very good detective story is also a fascinating source of information about Tibet and its Buddhist culture. The book contains predictably a  damning indictment of  China's human rights abuses especially in relation to Tibet. 

'Suicide was a grave sin , certain to bring reincarnation as a lower life form. But opting for life on four legs could be a tempting alternative to life on two in a Chinese hard labor brigade.'

Shan, the last honest man in Beijing, was an investigator who got too close to ministerial corruption and found himself in the People's 404th Construction Brigade in Tibet. Here he explains to Colonel Tan how a murder investigation is carried out:

'Where does the investigation start?'
'The weapon. Match it to the wound.'
'No. The closet. Always look in the closet. In the old days you looked for hidden books. Books in English. Western music. Today you look for the opposite. Old boots and threadbare clothes hidden away with a book of the chairman's sayings. In case of a new resurgence of party enforcement. Either way it shows reactionary doubts about socialist progress.'

When a well dressed headless corpse is discovered by the prisoners of the 404th Shan is ordered to become an investigator once again and delve into a world of Tibetan sorcerers, Buddhist resistance, official corruption and a beautiful auburn haired American mining engineer. Guarded by Sergeant Feng and with the assistance of Yeshe, a former monk, he must tread very carefully to find the murderer and at the same time protect the lives of his fellow prisoners of the 404th. 

What is surprising and very enjoyable about The Skull Mantra  is that Eliot Pattison has been able to introduce so much subtle humour into such a serious subject.

'I had the honour of teaching a course with a professor of forensic medicine at Bei Dad, he said. 'Just a two week seminar, really. Investigation Technique in the Socialist Order.'
Your skills have served you well,' She seemed unable to resist sarcasm.

'Someone said my technique involved too much investigation, not enough of the socialist order.'    

This book  was the beginning of a series about Shan Tao Yun, and won Eliot Pattison the Edgar award for the Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America.


Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Others, too, have drawn a connection between totalitatian regimes and the exigencies of a modern Olympics. Since Beijing 2008 is going on, boycott fans will have to wait for the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. London and Vancouver don't inspire the willl to boycott in quite the same way, I think.

And no one who comes immediately to mind writes crime fiction with the passion that Eliot Pattison brings to the task.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:42 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

London taxpayers may be the ones doing the boycott when the final cost of the 2012 Olympics is discovered.
Tony Hillerman does come to mind as someone as passionate about Navajo culture as Eliot Pattison is about the Tibetan.

3:06 PM  

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