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The Corpse Reader    by Antonio Garrido order for
Corpse Reader
by Antonio Garrido
Order:  USA  Can
Amazon, 2013 (2013)
Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

What is a Corpse Reader? If you had lived in 1206 in the Tsong Dynasty in Eastern China the term might have been familiar to you. This specialization today would be called forensic science. Today's CSI.

The Song family - mother, father and two sons, Lu and Ci - lived in this region as farmers, barely earning enough money to stay alive. A young girl is the only daughter to survive an inherited fatal disease.

When Ci finds a decapitated body in the fields, the family's life is all but over. The parents perish in a house fire; Lu is accused of murder; and Ci and Third (the little sister) flee the area and end up in Lin'an, the Tsong dynasty's capital city. There Ci faces insurmountable odds. He falls into the hands of a real con artist. He works as a grave digger in the Fields of Death. Earning enough money to take proper care for Third is a top priority. But the way he has to earn it doesn't suit Ci and he and Third flee. Through perseverance and hard work in his studies, he attends the Ming Academy.

There he encounters envy over his pioneering new methods and endures cruel harassment at the hands of his peers. The Emperor assigns Ci to track a series of awful crimes with his own death on the line. Ci takes on the task (what option does he really have?) and falls into a pit of intrigue, embezzlement and despair as he tries to clear his family's name of misdeeds. Honor was most important in this era. The sins of the father did indeed pass on to the sons.

Times were hard for the average citizen and Ci would do most anything to earn the money he needed to keep himself and his family alive. The contrasts between peasants and royalty weave through the story. Some things never change.

Song Ci is an actual historical figure. He was well respected for his abilities in the forensic field. Amazing, when one considers the technology available today for the pathologists' studies, that some of his innovations are still in use. I found the brutality of the times unbelievable. Torture was prevalent. Ghastly torture! The threat of being in the hands of jailers certainly should have kept the citizens on the straight and narrow.

The Corpse Reader (translated by Thomas Bunstead) received the Zaragoza International Prize for the best historical novel published in Spain in 2012. Garrido's La Escriba was published in 2008.

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