Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.
Li Du was an imperial Chinese librarian. Now he is an exile. In 1780, three years of wandering have brought him to Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border. He expects a quiet outpost barely conscious of its place within the empire, but Dayan is teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. The crowds have been drawn by the promise of an unmatched spectacle; an eclipse of the sun, commanded by the Emperor himself.
Amid the frenzy, Li Du befriends an elderly Jesuit astronomer. Hours later, the man is murdered in the home of the local magistrate, and Li Du suspects it was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can’t keep his own story straight.
Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the pass over Jade Dragon Mountain that will take him out of China forever. But he cannot ignore the murder that the town is all too eager to forget. As Li Du investigates, he begins to suspect that the murderer intends to kill again. The eclipse is coming. Li Du must solve the murder before the sun disappears. If he does not, then someone, perhaps Li Du himself, will never again see its light.
This was my suggestion for book club this month, but I actually chose it because I almost bought the second book in the series, The White Mirror, in a book shop in Estes Park, Colorado. When I realized there was another book, I bought News of the World instead. I was pleased when my book club chose my suggestion of Jade Dragon Mountain because I was still thinking about this series and how interesting it sounded.
I loved this book from start to finish. A historical fiction mystery set in China? Yes please. This book delivered on all fronts and was really even better than I had imagined it would be. The world Elsa Hart created was absolutely beautiful, elegant, and exotic. The mystery didn’t feel forced, but natural and I neither suspected the culprit, nor saw the final twist coming.
I learned a great deal reading this book, which is always fun. I can’t think of any others books I’ve read that are set in China except for those by Amy Tan. It was fun to discover a new author and one with as intoxicating a style as Elsa Hart.
My edition of this novel had an interview with the author and well as information about some of her source materials for the book. She has really lived an interesting life and I enjoyed reading about that as well as the books that helped with her research…including some that made it into the pages of Jade Dragon Mountain!
I’m excited to keep reading about the adventures of Li Du in The White Mirror – now on my short list of books to purchase (though I’m at that point again where I should really not be buying more books….)
Also, I really, really, really love dumplings and tea. The descriptions of both in this book ignited some major cravings! Anyone have a favorite place for dumplings in San Diego?