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Beautiful Ghosts    by Eliot Pattison order for
Beautiful Ghosts
by Eliot Pattison
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Beautiful Ghosts, Eliot Pattison returns his hero, ex-Inspector Shan Tao Yun, to the series' deep roots in the infamous Lhadrung Valley, Southern Tibet. This is where we first met Shan in The Skull Mantra. Along with unworldly Buddhist monks Lokesh and Gendun, he labored in the 'People's 404th Construction Brigade'. The subsequent Water Touching Stone took our hero into the Xianjiang Autonomous Region, and showed us the plight of its Kazakh and Uighur peoples. Then in Bone Mountain, Shan traveled north to participate in a karma storm in Amdo/Qinghai, and to continue his own spiritual journey.

As the story opens, fearful hill people have been summoned to the ruins of the Zhoka gompa for a celebration of the Dalai Lama's birthday. Herders bring the body of one of their own, claiming that 'godkillers' murdered him. Surya - monk, talented artist, and very old friend of Gendun's - appears covered in blood. He claims to have killed a man, and that he is 'No more a monk. No more a human.' The ensuing investigation reunites Shan with his old nemesis - and savior - Colonel Tan. There's an influential Beijing museum director named Ming, a hidden terraced settlement of Tibetan artists, and ties to global art smuggling, as well as to theft and murder in the United States. And Shan suffers a painful reunion with his son Ko - who idolized his missing father as a 'famous criminal' and grew up a rebellious hooligan.

Westerners play a role this time, as in previous episodes. In the region are many descendants of a local woman's marriage to an Englishman, who came to Tibet with the Younghusband expedition. This extended family includes Surya's supposed victim, Englishwoman Elizabeth McDowell (an associate of Ming's), and small Dawa, sent to learn about life in Tibet by parents who were exiled to Szechuan Province before she was born. Shan becomes close to both Beijing Inspector Yao and Corbett, an FBI agent nearing retirement, who risks his career to bring to justice the murderer of a young Seattle nanny. Shan and Corbett travel far to find answers, and many more people die, before they understand the strong historical relationship between a Tibetan gompa's 'Stone Dragon Lama' and an ancient mystery with ties to Beijing's Forbidden City.

Beautiful Ghosts is the best yet in an outstanding series, one that is at times unbearably painful to read. Pattison's lyrical descriptions of Tibet's rarefied landscapes - as in 'On moonlit nights in the mountain wilderness Shan Tao Yun had heard tiny ringing tones floating down from the stars' - contrast strongly with the terror and violence that exist in a country occupied, and harshly controlled, by invaders. However, the author redeems some evildoers - who begin to find 'the god within' - and offers Shan new hope in this episode. 'Lha Gyal lo! (Victory to the gods!)'

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