For lovers of crime thrillers, Bones of the Earth is a special opportunity to take all that’s great in an investigative mystery novel and place it in a location that introduces unique culture, geography, characters and national politics – Tibet, China. The Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950, brought about more than a change of national control, it brought about the demise of a religious culture steeped in ancient beliefs and holy men. There is something inimitable about a majestic, mysterious and bloody awesome landscape that whispers, ‘The Gods walk amongst these mountains’. A place that hasn’t changed in millennia, where artefacts remain to remind us of the timeless strands flowing into the past. Monks, scholars, philosophers and spiritualists have all sought out the inspiration of the Himalayas in their contemplation of life, nature and connectedness, and have acknowledged this unity by building shrines to the deities.
Inspector Shan Tao Yun is the main character and has a troubled past that is covered in the first 9 books in this series (which unfortunately I haven’t read). Shan had previously fallen out of favour with the Beijing authorities and was sentenced to a period of imprisonment in a brutal work camp. The Governor of Lhadrung County, Colonel Tan, released Shan from prison and appointed him as his police constable in the town of Yangkar, Tibet.
Shan is brought in as a reluctant observer in the state execution of Metok, a senior official who worked at a new hydroelectric project deep in the mountains called The Five Claws Dam Project. Metok was accused of taking bribes and his trial was conducted in secret with manufactured evidence, which Shan now recognises as Chinese state murder, and reminds Tan “Corruption isn’t a solitary crime. Yet only one man is charged and executed. A Tibetan.” Tan bestows a new title on Shan as ‘Special Inspector for the County Governor’s Office’, so Shan can investigate activities at The Five Claws. The Five Claws is also known as Gekho’s Roost and the old ones also referred to it as The Valley of The Gods.
“My grandfather always just called it the original valley, like it was there before anything else. I remember once my grandmother argued when he said that, and he told her don’t be silly, there had to be a first place, from which all creation flowed. He said it was the foundation place, that all the Bones of the Earth were anchored there. If that anchor were broken, then those bones would disconnect.”
A clear distrustful and bitter relationship exists between the Tibetans and the Chinese. The authorities reshape the Earth to build a dam and they don’t care what treasured antiques they destroy or what they have to do to keep certain activities hidden. The case gets complicated when Shan uncovers a link between The Five Claws and the deaths of Metok, a US archaeology student, Natalie Pike, Professor Gangfen and others in suspicious circumstances.
Eliot builds an investigation that not only deals with intense hidden motives and surprises, but there is a constant threat that the Chinese authorities can execute anyone not totally committed to the Chinese atheist state. A real sense of danger is brilliantly portrayed, and every encounter and course of dialogue feels like a potential trap. The mood and prejudice of many very well-drawn and diverse characters are driven by this oppression. This is a very well written, tense and clever crime mystery, that navigates the cultural pressures and the beautiful landscape of Tibet.
Eliot Pattison is clearly a passionate advocate for Tibet and in parallel with a very engrossing story he exposes the hidden and subjugated culture that defines Tibetans. I would highly recommend this book and I’d like to thank Eliot Pattison for providing me with a copy of his book in return for an honest review.