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Posts Tagged ‘murders’

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.

THE STRANGER DIARIES by Elly Griffiths: Book Review

Can a curse from a long-dead writer actually hang over into today?  Can the works of Gothic horror author R. M. Holland bring death to teachers at Talgarth High?

Clare Cassidy is an elementary school teacher in England who also teaches an adult creative writing class.  In that class she has been discussing The Stranger with her students.  What makes the short story particularly horrifying to us, she tells her class, is that Holland actually wrote it in the very building we are in now.  Clare, in fact, is in the process of writing Holland’s biography, although after a good start the words seem to have dried up for her.  She wants to write the story of the mysterious author whose wife’s spirit is reputed to haunt the halls of the house where the couple lived, a house that now is the location of the school’s English department.

And she would also like to clear up the identity of the mysterious Mariana whom Holland refers to in his letters.  Was she his daughter, his previously-unknown second wife, a mistress?  Clare is convinced that if she can solve this issue, her book will definitely be picked up by a publisher.

Now, as she exits her classroom, she receives a phone call from the head of the English department, Rick Lewis.  He’s so sorry to tell her, he says, that her colleague and close friend, Ella, is dead.  Not only dead, but murdered.

Clare knows something about Ella she decides not to share with the police when they question her, that a few months ago Ella had a very brief fling with Rick during an off-site teacher training course.  Although Ella had had an affair that ended badly with the head of the English department at her former school, she apparently didn’t learn from that experience and allowed herself to spend the weekend with the married Rick.

What Clare didn’t tell Ella at the time, although she was extremely angry with her, was that Rick had attempted to start an affair with her earlier in the semester, using the same words, “I’m ill with you,” to express his uncontrollable desire.  Clare berates Ella for her foolishness and writes in the diary that she keeps that she doesn’t think she’ll ever forgive her.  But now that Ella is dead, Clare is feeling guilty.

Clare’s diary is very important to her.  Although she has fallen behind in her biography of Holland, she never misses a day writing in her diary.  So when she re-reads the entry she wrote when Ella told her she was planning on spending the night with Rick, she’s stunned to find a note written at the bottom of that page, in very small capital letters–HALLO, CLARE.  YOU DON’T KNOW ME.

Adding to her sadness about Ella’s death and her less-than-truthful interview with the police, Clare is he concern about her teenage daughter Georgie dating Ty, a young man several years older than she is.

The Stranger Diaries is a terrific book.  Clare, Georgie, Clare’s ex-husband Simon, Georgie’s boyfriend Ty, and even the deceased Ella who is killed before the novel opens, are totally realistic characters that Elly Griffiths skillfully brings to life.  This is a mystery that will keep you enthralled until the last pages.

You can read more about Elly Griffiths 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.