Debut novelist Elsa Hart begins Jade Dragon Mountain with Li Du, an exiled librarian; Hamza, a traveling storyteller; and Brother Pieter, Jesuit astronomy scholar. She puts them in the Yunnan province of China, considered to be dangerous and uncivilized, in the eighteenth century. Her descriptions of the setting vividly portray the time and place. In a move reminiscent of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, she adds the coming event of the Emperor’s arrival when he will prove his divinity by bringing on an eclipse of the sun.
The murder mystery begins when Brother Pieter is found dead after a formal dinner. Li Du’s cousin Tulishen, the magistrate, wants to pass it off as an accident so it will not interfere with the coming celebration. Li Du, foregoes his option of continuing his travels out of China and does what he must to stay and solve the mystery. His cousin requires that it must be finished before the celebration. Suspects abound from Tibetan bandits, the Dominicans who would like to discredit the Jesuits who have provided the Emperor with information he’s using to “bring” the eclipse, members of the magistrate’s household, and even the magistrate himself. With a feel of Arthur Conan Doyle mixed with Agatha Christie, Li Du uses his library skills, overheard conversations, and observations of people to find the solution.
Intertwined in the mystery is the puzzle of the splendid tellurion. Family secrets and tensions add other posers to the solution and yet another mystery that must be solved even after the murderer is caught.
If you need car chases and bedroom scenes, this is not the murder you are looking for. If you’d like to get away to ancient China for a mystery wrapped inside a historical novel, it’s just the ticket.