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Skeleton God: An Inspector Shan Tao Yun Mystery    by Eliot Pattison order for
Skeleton God
by Eliot Pattison
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Skeleton God follows Soul of the Fire as the ninth in one of my all-time favorite mystery series, Eliot Pattison's wrenching Tibetan tales that began with The Skull Mantra. That book introduced us to Inspector Shan Tao Yun after he was disgraced for anti-corruption investigations in Beijing and incarcerated in Southern Tibet's Lhadrung Valley. There he labored alongside Buddhist monks, initiating his own spiritual journey.

After Shan helped his old nemesis in Lord of Death, Colonel Tan (effectively the region's ruler and a fervent patriot who despises corruption) had Shan's son Ko (serving prison time in Tibet on drug charges) moved to Lhadrung Valley as a reward. As Skeleton God opens, Tan has made another bargain with Shan, who reluctantly acts as constable in remote Yangkar in exchange for regular parole for Ko with his father. In this region, Shan has befriended a family of ferals, 'numbered among the few Tibetans who refused to register as citizens of the Chinese government.'

As the episode opens, Shan and his deputy, Officer Jengtse, help an elderly nun who has been assaulted and find an ancient tomb nearby - inside, beside the body of the saint originally buried there is the corpse of a Chinese soldier who died fifty years before and that of a very recently deceased young American. Locals warn that 'The dead are rising.' With Shan and Jengtse is Public Security Lieutenant Jinhua, recently arrived with a group of Tibetan detainees. He is not what he seems, but it takes some time for Shan to work out why he is there.

One of Jinhua's detainees, a green-eyed young woman, turns out to be the dead American's sister - their Tibetan mother came from Yangkar and they returned to discover her family's fate. Before Shan can do much digging, helicopters arrive bearing Colonel Tan and also General Lau Lujou. This 'old soldier in the motherland's battle for justice' lives a life of luxury in Hong Kong and and is all powerful in Beijing. He seems to have unfinished business in Yangkar - what can it possibly be? Tan and Shan both wonder but must proceed carefully.

As Shan - and an unlikely ally - steadily untangle this complex puzzle and uncover past atrocity as well as recent murders, he spends time with his son Ko, who has grown in character and will most likely play a significant ongoing role in the series. The highly recommended Skeleton God maintains the high standard of past episodes. Don't miss the Author's Note at the end which tells us, 'The shadow that settled over Tibet decades ago sometimes makes writing novels set in that land feel like searching for jewels in a dim cave.' I hope that Eliot Pattison continues to do so for a long time.

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