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Bones Of The Earth

BONES OF THE EARTH . . . Between the covers

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Inspector Shan Tao Yun is a Chinese policeman whose honesty and integrity has discomforted the faceless members of whatever dreadful committee deals with public employees who don’t toe the line. Considered too valuable to be dispatched with a 9mm Parabellum round, he is exiled to the wilds of Tibet to be the constable for the settlement of Yangkar. As an extra insurance, his son is arrested and kept in a prison camp; if Shan’s independent streak becomes too troublesome, then his son will simply become collateral damage.

BOTEIn Bones Of The Earth (the tenth and final book in the series) Shan becomes involved in a complex murder mystery involving a massive civil engineering project and a dead American.archaeology student, whose father has come to Tibet to investigate if his daughter’s death was, as the authorities declare, an unfortunate accident or something more sinister. As ever in the series, Shan’s complex relationship with Colonel Tan, the governor of Lhadrung county, is central to the narrative. Tan is as brutal and ruthless as his party masters need him to be, but there is a tiny spark of something – perhaps not integrity, but something close – which enables him to do business with Shan.

The sheer intensity of the detail Pattison adds to the narrative is astonishing, particularly when he is describing the humdrum world of Yangkar. As eavesdroppers, flies on the wall or what you will, it seems a grey kind of place; the ubiquitous breeze block is everywhere, naked light bulbs swing from the ceilings and even the food – rice, noodles, vegetables, dumplings – is functional and plain. Yangkar is, of course, dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the mountain peaks and snow fields. When colour emerges it is not chromatic in a visual sense, but in the indomitable spirituality and humanity of the Tibetans themselves. Try as they might, the Chinese rarely come close to understanding or even identifying the primal bond the people of Tibet have with their religion. It is a bond partly forged in fear, but also made of a oneness with the caves, the rocks and the wild peaks where the gods – and devils – dwell.

Pattison_EliotI doubt that Pattison (right) is on the diplomatic Christmas Card list of President Xi Jinping and, were the author to fly into Lhasa, he is unlikely to be greeted with open arms. His disdain for the charmless and monolithic mindset of The People’s Republic is obvious, but Inspector Shan has to stay alive and keep himself on the outside of the Re-education Camps. Shan reminds me of another great fictional detective who has to do business with monsters: the late Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther sits down with minsters such as Goebbels and Heydrich; he will even smoke a cigar with them and accept a snifter of Schnapps while, metaphorically, holding his nose. Such is Shan’s relationship with his Chinese masters. He is a realist. If he says the wrong thing he (or his imprisoned son) is dead. Raymond Chandler’s immortal words fit the Inspector very well:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. “

Bones Of The Earth is published by Minotaur Books and is available now.

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ON MY SHELF . . . March 2019

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SPRING IN THE EAST OF ENGLAND has been played rather a nasty trick by the weather Gods. February fooled us with its sunshine, gentle breezes and benign temperatures. March is taking its revenge. Blossom, daffodils and narcissi are nodding gamely but only just about holding their own in the teeth of savage winds. Still, indoors is relatively calm, and with a stack of excellent new books to ponder, I think I will make it through to May. Our four authors are all on Twitter, so just click on the little birdy to see what they are all up to.

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins

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square-twitterThis sounds as if it could be one of those bawdy recollections of a Victorian courtesan which passed for erotic literature in pre – 50 Shades days. It is, I am glad to say, nothing of the kind. It is, instead, a literary whodunnit set in early 19th century England. Then, as now, the media love an exotic criminal, no matter what crimes they may have committed. The chattering classes in the London of 1826 are, in turn, horrified and luridly curious about the defendant in a murder trial. The accused is a young woman, brought up on a slave plantation in her native Jamaica, and now she stands in the dock of the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of her employers, Mr and Mrs Benham. The indictment is sensational:

“FRANCES LANGTON, also known as Dusky Fran or Ebony Fran, is indicted for the wilful murder of GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM in that she on the 27th day of January in the year of Our Lord 1826 did feloniously and with malice aforethought assault GEORGE BENHAM and MARGUERITE BENHAM, subjects of our lord the King, in tat she did strike and stab them until they were dead, both about the upper and middle chest, their bodies having been discovered by EUSTACIA LINUX, housekeeper of Montfort Street, London.”

Frannie Langton tells her story courtesy of Sara Collins who, after a successful career as a lawyer, took a Masters degree in creative writing at Cambridge. This, her debut novel, is published by Viking/Penguin and will be available on 4th April.

THE LONELY HOUR by Christopher Fowler

square-twitterI have never written anything more eye-catching or erudite than these book reviews, so I don’t really know what real authors use (apart from sales figures) as ‘performance indicators’ for success. I use the speech marks to show that I would never normally use such examples of Management Speak, so it’s irony, OK? I imagine, though, that when you have created a central character, or in this case a duo, that is is so recognisable that it gets a bigger font than both the book title and the author’s name on the dust jacket, then maybe you have made it. Christopher Fowler’s ageless pair of investigators are, in the nicest possible way, an in-joke before the first page is turned. Fowler is second to none in his ability to use obscure British brand names as he puns and funs his way through what are the most irresistibly English novels of our time, and his two constabulary codgers are, for younger readers, named after a brand of British matches which were first sold in the mid nineteenth century. Their latest adventure begins, as ever, in London, with a mysterious death which may be connected to black magic. The book blurb promises “murder, arson, kidnap, blackmail ….. and bats.” Expect brilliant use of language, an eccentric and bewildering plot with a breathtaking resolution  – and many a good joke. The Lonely Hour is out on 21st March and is published by Doubleday. The more perceptive among you might infer that I am a fan of Christopher Fowler. To find out more about his books, click on the gentleman’s image below, and all will be revealed.

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BONES OF THE EARTH by Eliot Pattison

square-twitterEliot Pattison is an American writer who has written a superb series of novels, of which this the tenth, featuring a Chinese detective, Inspector Shan Tao Yun, who has upset the Communist regime by his honesty and single minded integrity. Managing to escape a state firing squad he has, instead, been exiled to the wilds of Tibet where, or so his masters believe, he can do no harm. The Inspector is forced to witness the execution of a Tibetan for corruption, but he can’t shake the suspicion that he has instead witnessed a murder arranged by conspiring officials. As ever, Shan chooses the hard road, and his investigations bring him into contact with the vengeful father of a murdered American archaeologist who is determined to find justice for his dead son. Shan becomes slap dab in the middle of a deathly struggle between the mystical world of Tibetan gods and the implacable bureacrats back in Beijing. Bones Of The Earth is out on 26th March, and is published by Minotaur Books. I’ve reviewed and recommended earlier novels by Eliot Pattison, so click the image below to find out more.

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NO ONE HOME by Tim Weaver

square-twitterIt seems like only the other day that Tim Weaver introduced us to his investigator David Raker, yet No One Home is the tenth novel in the series. Raker has, you might say, a niche talent. He finds missing people. People in whom the police have lost interest, with just their distraught wife, husband, son or daughter left to care. Raker pursues his missing folk to some of the most far-flung parts of the world, but here, the mystery begins close to home. In a baffling disappearance to rival the unsolved mystery of the Marie Celeste, Raker isn’t just chasing one elusive subject – he’s after an entire community. The nine members of a tiny hamlet sit down to eat, drink and have fun on All Hallows Eve. When the grey dawn comes, they are gone. Every single one of them. Is Raker about to unravel a breathtaking conspiracy, or will he just have to settle for corpses? You will have to be patient to read how David Raker tackles this latest challenge, as Michael Joseph will be publishing the book on 16th May. Meanwhile click on the picture below to find out a little more about how Mr R operates.

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