Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Book Author: Antonio Garrido

THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido: Book Review

The Corpse Reader is an incredible book.  Its author calls it a historical novel, which of course it is, as its protagonist is the real-life scholar and scientist Cí Song.  But it’s also a mystery because crimes are what propel the story.

Cí is a teenaged boy in 13th-century China.  He comes from a humble background in a rural town but gets a taste of city life when his family moved to Lin’an and his father began working for Judge Feng.  That magistrate, recognizing Cí’s extraordinary intelligence, took him under his wing to help discover causes of death among the city’s deceased.  However, due to the death of his paternal grandfather, Cí’s family is forced by custom to return to their small village and take over the family farm.

Ci’s older brother Lu, who hadn’t gone with the family to the city but stayed in their hometown to manage the farm, now views himself as the head of the Song family; he has become cruel and overbearing and disrespectful to his father, a terrible breach of manners in Chinese society.  When a family friend is robbed and murdered, Lu is accused of the crime, and before a thorough investigation can take place, Lu is imprisoned and tortured to death.  Almost immediately following this, Cí’s home is torched, and his parents die in the fire.

Desperate and fearful, and his sister, his only surviving sibling, head back to Lin’an.  But when they finally arrive, having passed through a series of devastating misadventures, the magistrate is nowhere to be found, and Cí is at a loss as to what to do.  His dream is to enter the university and become a magistrate and what we would today call a coroner or medical examiner, but with no family to support him and his former mentor out of the city, Cí must take any job to survive.

Antonio Garrido has brought the figures and customs of thirteenth-century China to life in The Corpse ReaderIn the author’s note at the end of the novel, Señor Garrido tells the reader that today Cí Song is considered to be the founder of forensic science.  Think  of it–more than eight centuries ago in medieval China a man wrote five books on forensics that are still used today.

The characters in The Corpse Reader are fascinating, and so are the customs.  The reader learns about family practices, differences in cuisine in northern and southern China, the punishment of criminals, and many more facts.  But nowhere are these facts presented dryly or simply inserted into the story; instead, each custom is a natural outgrowth of the scene in which it is presented.

In addition, the characters are so well described that, in spite of the unfamiliarity that most westerners have with Chinese names, each character is easy to remember and differentiate from others in the novel.

I have long been a fan of Robert Van Gulik’s series of Judge Dee mysteries (see my review of The Golden Nail Murders under Golden Oldies on this blog), and The Corpse Reader is a wonderful addition to the world of long-ago China.

There is no web site devoted to Antonio Garrido, although reviews of The Corpse Reader are available on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.