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The Skull Mantra (1999)

by Eliot Pattison

Series: Shan Tao Yun (1)

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8813520,117 (3.9)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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English (32)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (35)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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 |
I am eager, now, to learn more about Tibet. On this alone, I should give the author 5 stars - and on moral message - which I took to be that a single person dedicated to truth can by sheer force of goodness turn the tide and cause a ripple effect of conversion to the truth.
But I have to fault the text for some improbable scenes (the escape from the thugs in the capital? No. The boulder murder plot? No. And more. It reads like a wild and highly improbable movie plot - but I enjoyed it, nonetheless. ( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
This book seemed difficult to read, but probably because I was constantly looking up references. It was well written, but the newness of the cultures (to me) and the plot element conflict between the Tibetan and Chinese cultures forced me to reread sections. I was not alone because the Tibetan culture was sometimes misinterpreted or just over ridden by the Chinese in power. There were even two minor American characters who managed to misinterpret the culture clash they were operating within.The murder investigation undertaken by the main character(Shan) was many times minor to the maneuverings he had to negotiate to further his investigation. He was Chinese, but a prisoner amidst Tibetans in a Chinese prison camp.
The bottom line was this book was worth the effort and time spent. ( )
  jalfredb | Oct 22, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (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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