The Inspector Shan series begins with The Skull Mantra, which won Eliot Pattison the 2001 Edgar Award for Best First Novel
In fact, it was The Skull Mantra that inspired my “Uncommonly Good Mysteries” list, which I first started in 2011. I had just read Eliot Pattison’s newest book Ashes of the Earth: A Mystery of Post-Apocalyptic America and was impressed enough to look for his other novels. I started with “The Skull Mantra” and was hooked.
Since 2011 the 10 uncommonly good mystery series on my list grew in length as new books were added… and became so unwieldy that, in 2015, I separated the various lists into individual series posts for easier lookup. You’ll see the Inspector Shan books listed in order below.
Buddhist monks, a disgraced, anti-establishment detective and the mysterious mountains of Tibet
The “Inspector Shan Tao Yun” mystery series has not only an interesting character (a disgraced Chinese detective), but also an intriguing locale (remote mountainous areas of Tibet) plus multi-layered plots that both surprise and enrich, starting with The Skull Mantra.
Incarcerated in a Chinese “gulag” in the mountains of Tibet, former police inspector Shan Tao Yun is pulled into solving a crime involving a body found near the prison camp – a body that was missing its head and dressed in expensive American-style clothes.
Shan gets help from unexpected quarters… namely the Tibetan monks who have been imprisoned because they represent too great a threat to the Chinese establishment. The treatment of the prisoners, including the holy men is beyond dreadful. Torture is common. So it is somewhat of a relief for Shan to be offered a slight respite from daily camp drudgery. Even so, he has to watch his back.
The story is intricate, the names a bit unwieldy to those of us not used to them… but The Skull Mantra is one of the most satisfying, thought-provoking books I have read.
While each book in the series involves a mystery to be solved, equally engrossing is Shan’s relationships with the Buddhist lamas… and the country itself. These are not stories that cover surface interests. I find myself slowing my thoughts and breathing whenever the monks enter the picture. My heart soars with theirs when they rise above horrid events and circumstances and just… allow… life to be as it is. As Shan allows his to follow suit, eventually.
The Inspector Shan Tao Yun books in order:
I would definitely read The Skull Mantra first, though it’s not as crucial to read the rest in absolute order.
- The Skull Mantra [Start here]
- Water Touching Stone
- Bone Mountain
- Beautiful Ghosts
- Prayer of the Dragon
- Lord of Death
- Mandarin Gate
- Soul of the Fire
- Skeleton God