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Book Author: Eliot Pattison

BONES OF THE EARTH by Eliot Pattison: Book Review

Reading Bones of the Earth should come with a warning:  This book is dangerous to your complacency, your sense of well-being.  This is the tenth book in the Inspector Shan Tao Yun series, and it is true to the Tibetan people and their land, their struggles against the Chinese occupation and its cruelties, and the importance of the Buddhist creeds that are at the heart of the country.

Shan is an ethnic Chinese inspector who, after being imprisoned in a Chinese work camp, was relocated to Yangkar, in rural Tibet.  While working as a low-level constable there, he has become impressed and respectful of the people and their beliefs, things that he must keep hidden from his Chinese superiors.  This requires a delicate balancing act with his immediate supervisor, Colonel Tan, even though Tan himself has become more understanding of the native community around him.

As the novel opens, Shan is made to witness the execution of a Tibetan prisoner, one who was allegedly tried and convicted of corruption in the building of a huge construction project at the Five Claws Dam.  The dam is located in a mountain area sacred to the Tibetans who live there, something of no interest to the engineers on site or to the powers in Beijing.  But, as Shan learns, there have been innumerable problems connected to its construction, many with no seemingly rational explanation.

The prisoner, Metok Rentzig, had been a prisoner in the Yangkar jail until his summary arrest and execution.  A note he passed to the jail’s janitor gives the real reason for his punishment:  he knew that the deaths of an American woman, Natalie Pike, and a Chinese archaeologist, Professor Gangfen, which had been officially declared a tragic road accident, were in fact deliberate murders at the dam.

A “lowly constable,” as he constantly is reminded by those in power, Shan has no authority to investigate Metok’s death.  But his sense of justice cannot reconcile the speed of the prisoner’s execution with the fact that there were no co-conspirators mentioned in the corruption charge, and he determines to look into the case.  It would take more than one person to be complicit in the corruption to damage a project the size of the Five Claws Dam, Shan thinks.

The director of the project, Ran Yatsen, is eager to show Shan the scope of the dam when the constable pays an unexpected, and unauthorized, visit.  Totally disregarding the Tibetan belief that the site was one of the spiritual power places on the earth, Ran brags of the massive turbines that will be built in the valley, totally submerging it.

The brutality of the Chinese occupation is in direct contrast to the religious, non-violent beliefs of the Tibetan people.  The portrayal of the Chinese work and re-education camps brings to mind similar ones during the Nazi period.  Substitute one totalitarian regime and its trust in its right to subjugate an “inferior” people for another, and you have the same tragic story.

Eliot Pattison has written the final chapter of Inspector Shan, and it is a powerful one. 

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.