The Skull Mantra (and a question for readers about political commitment in crime novels)
"I went to bed with my book, Dying High: Lies About a Climber's Life, grabbed on my way out to get a taxi to the airport. There is something about the stupidity of climbing mountains that appeals. Perhaps it's the clinging by the fingertips to inhospitable surfaces. I could claim experience in this area."
Pattison's novel, winner of an Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for best first novel of 1999, has a location of unparalleled interest and exoticism (for many readers). But is has more. For one, it puts a highly unusual spin on the old motif of the unlikely detective pairing. The protagonist, Shan Tao Yun, works with a changing and uncertain roster of partners. Above and beyond the expected squabbles, there are deeper reasons for mutual mistrust and suspicion.
Political and cultural rivalries are at work, naturally, not just between Chinese and Tibetans, but within both groups. Economic and scientific interests come into play as well, in the form of a Western mining company working against bureaucratic hurdles to meet a production deadline that, among other things, will let it have something to show a soon-to-arrive group of American tourists. All these clashing interests provide, among other things, a wealth of possible suspects.
But above all are the various faces of Tibetan Buddhism, the prayers, the demons, the all-sustaining faith of monks and lay people, the texts, the art, and a sympathetic view of outcast clans whose traditional job is to prepare bodies for "sky burial," all held together by Pattison's strong sympathy for Tibetans. If Clive James was right that most international crime novels, with no original stories to tell, "Essentially .. are guidebooks,” this is one hell of a guidebook.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007
Tibet crime fiction
China crime fiction
Asia crime fiction