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The Skull Mantra (1999)

by Eliot Pattison

Series: Shan Tao Yun (1)

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9203721,676 (3.88)82
A Chinese official is murdered in a slave camp in Tibet. One of the prisoners, a disgraced Chinese prosecutor, is ordered to write a report accusing a Buddhist monk. He discovers the real culprits are Chinese officials and American miners, but the truth may hurt the camp more than a lie.

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
his was about a Tibetan detective who had been sent to a work camp for having gotten too close to the truth in some key cases. He is asked to help the prison director with a case. He does. A bit slow moving, but interesting insight into Buddhist culture.
Wife Sharon has read another book by this author (Water Touching Stone), which she loved, so I stayed with this book, otherwise, I probably would have given up. ( )
  jjbinkc | Aug 27, 2023 |
it took like 300 pages for this one to get going for me, and by then i was too lost to really understand all he was doing here. i think, actually, that this is a really interesting and complicated mystery and i like his messaging. he has a lot to say about the government in china and what is going on with tibet, the abuses and mistreatment that is rampant. there is a lot to learn in this book; about that and about buddhism. but mostly it was just too much of a slog for me, and too hard, even though he is obviously a good writer, and cares about this place and these people. it was probably just the wrong time for me to read this, and i wish i had liked it more, but this wasn't for me right now.

"'It is a mistake to think of courage as something you show to others. True courage is only something you show to yourself.'" ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Sep 20, 2022 |
Stunningly absorbing portrait of Tibet and tensions with China. As a devoted mystery reader, I found the characters and plot, combined with the casual use of Buddhist tenets and practices challenging to parse. You either fill in the blanks yourself or hang on for the reveal. I found myself in Wikipedia a lot! Nonetheless the atmosphere (and the mystery) are very well done. ( )
  PattyLee | Dec 14, 2021 |
Shan is a political prisoner in a work camp, when a dead body is discovered. The local political boss decides to have Shan investigate, given his background. He is assigned a Tibetan prisoner to help, and a Chinese guard to watch them. The plot is thick and quite meandering, but Shan is determined and keeps investigating, eventually uncovering the culprit and the motive. Ambitious effort, with a healthy dose of anti-communist/pro-Buddhist philosophy. I was bored at times, and doubt I will read the next book in the series. ( )
  skipstern | Jul 11, 2021 |
3.5 Stars

The Skull Mantra was the winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for best New Author. While participating in the 2015 Mystery World Challenge I decided to read it because it was set in Tibet, a country I hadn't visited yet. Skull Mantra introduces us to Shan Tao Yun, a former investigator in Beijing. When he ran afoul of his superiors, he found himself sentenced to a work camp in Tibet. His fellow prisoners were largely Tibetan Buddhist monks sentenced to hard labor in an effort to remove them from the populace and cure Tibet of the "unwanted, backward religious thinking".

When a dead body is found at the work-site, all signs lead to a murder by a demonic deity. The monks wish to perform religious rites at the site of the crime but it is not allowed. The tensions boil over and the monks threaten to stop working which will result in unnecessary bloodshed. Shan is given temporary leave and tasked to find a natural resolution to the crime. Shan soon finds his own desire for the truth and his Taoist beliefs conflict with the unwanted assignment and he tries to resolve the matter justly while saving himself.

At times, the detail became overwhelming. There was much effort put into the minutia of the religion and I often found myself completely lost. While the author seemed to be quite knowledgeable about Buddhism, I assume the majority of his intended audience of mystery fans probably was not. However, it was really an interesting, well told crime story, full of details, as well as history about Tibet, their relationship with China, and the Buddhist religion. I would recommend it if you have interest in any of those subjects. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jul 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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A Chinese official is murdered in a slave camp in Tibet. One of the prisoners, a disgraced Chinese prosecutor, is ordered to write a report accusing a Buddhist monk. He discovers the real culprits are Chinese officials and American miners, but the truth may hurt the camp more than a lie.

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Average: (3.88)
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