Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Eliot Pattison: Beautiful Ghosts

It almost always takes me a little while to get into Eliot Pattison’s books, and I can figure out why. He sets you down right in the middle of something going on, so you start off a little confused. You can read each of his Inspector Shan Tao Yun books as a stand-alone, but it helps to have read them in order – as I have.


Even though I have read them in order, I still find myself disoriented each time I start a new book. New names, a new situation, and it takes a few pages to get back in the rhythm of thinking about things in a new way. Within thirty pages, I am in a new world, and I am totally addicted. When I am reading one of the Inspector Shan Tao Yun books, I can hardly wait to get back to the book. My household chores suffer, my projects suffer – even AdventureMan suffers, as I seek to return to Tibet, the Tibetan Monks and the world of Chinese bureaucracy.

One of the things I love in this book – we saw a hint of it in the last book I reviewed, Bone Mountain – is that the worst of the bad characters can have a hint of humanity, and develop a full-blown redemption, as we are watching happen with the prison warden, Captain Tan. The process continues in Beautiful Ghosts. In this book, Pattison strikes several additional chords – he combines a good mystery with art, art thefts, public art and a little bit of history, a family reunion, father-son problems, and a lot of action. I’m a happy reader.

In Beautiful Ghosts, a murder happens, but it is hard to understand, at first, who was murdered, why the murder was committed, where the murder was committed as well as who committed the murder. One answer leads to another, and ultimately, to long buried treasures and long kept secrets.

A great tickle, for me, is that in this book Inspector Shan Tao Yun goes to my home town, Seattle, which he finds very strange, and grey and rainy. Pattison describes Chan’s bewilderment at how Americans live, and as Chan leaves Seattle, he comments on how he has not seen the sunshine in his entire time visiting there, working in co-ordination with an FBI office trying to track down some missing and stolen Tibetan art pieces, stolen from the hidden monasteries by corrupt Chinese bureaucrats.

Shan still stood, studying the strange buildings and the dozens of people who were wandering in and out of the open doorways off the huge main hall. There were shops, he realized, dozens of shops, two floors of shops. When he looked toward Corbett, the American was already ten feet in front of him. Shan followed slowly, puzzling over everything in his path. Adolescents walked by, engaged in casual conversation, seemingly relaxed despite the brass rings and balls that for some reason pierced their faces. He looked away, his face flushing, as he saw several women standing in a window clothed only in underwear. He saw more, nearly identical women, in another window adorned in sweaters and realized they were remarkably lifelike mannequins. One of the sweaters was marked at a few cents less than three hundred dollars, more than most Tibetans made in a year.

“Why did you bring me here?” Shan asked, as Crobett led him into a coffee shop and ordered drinks for both of them. “This place of merchants.”

“I thought you’d want to see America,” Corbett said with an odd, awkward grin, gesturing to a table, then sobored. “And this is where Abigail worked, before getting the governess job. People here knew her, told me stories about her, made her real for me.”

. . . .

Shan began to marvel at the rain itself. Beijing was a dry place, most of Tibet a near desert. He had not experienced so much rain since he was a boy, living near the sea. There were many qualities of American rain, and many types of rain clouds. One moment they were in a driving rain, like a storm, the next in a shower, the next in a drizzle that was little more than a thick fog. Once the water came down so violently, in such a sudden wind, that it struck at the car horizontally. . . .

You learn so much reading Eliot Pattison, more than I can absorb! There are detailed art works, there are geographic features, there are Buddhist customs, there are bureaucratic networks, there are mysteries of Chinese history and dynasties. There are tribal customs and learning to think like Tibetan monks.

Eliot Pattison is a gifted and poetic writer. If you like mysteries that turn out to be very complicated and which teach you a lot about a culture you have never experienced (or would like to learn more about) I would suggest you start at the beginning. These are the books about Inspector Chan in chronological order:

Skull Mantra
Water Touching Stone
Bone Mountain
Beautiful Ghosts

February 28, 2009 - Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Books, Bureaucracy, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Fiction, Financial Issues, Law and Order, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Public Art | , ,

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