This was a treat, and as more than just a good break from my usual British/Italian/French, i.e., European, go-to authors. It is Elsa Hart’s first mystery, easily a four-star entry, and very promising of any future works easily hitting five stars.
We’re in 1708 China in the company of a romantic yet stoic hero in internal exile. He, and the populace of his latest neighborhood, are beset by scheming provincial officials, one of whom is the distant relation he’s come to for assistance. An approaching imperial visit by the Emperor Kangxi to view a coming eclipse (a historical event) brings on more than one kind of spectacular fireworks as wealth, careers, reputations and the ascendancy of the Jesuits in the Emperor’s regard are all suddenly in play in this tiny backwater by a famed mountain. An explosion of intellectual shenanigans, Western dirty tricks and technology, and a notable twisting of family values ensues. And murders.
There is a pervasive sense of actually being of being in the midst of all this, of being with rather than just observing the bad and the good guys (the latter being mostly the poorer town and country characters), and that makes this atmospherically written tale an escape from the norm. Full of nice details and historical references that don’t weigh on the reader, it’s well structured if leisurely paced (and that helps the sometimes dream-like quality). With intriguing characters, interesting convolutions, and cultural inter-plays, Jade Dragon Mountain is an enjoyable experience.
♠ Elsa Hart’s Website