Jade Dragon Mountain

Minotaur: St. Martin's. Sept. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781250072320. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466883918. M
This riveting story of 18th-century Imperial China marks a promising start for first novelist Hart. Disgraced librarian Li Du lives as a wandering scholar after being exiled for associating with enemies of the emperor. On one of his many travels he passes through the town of Dayan and is required to report to his cousin Tulishen, the local magistrate. His visit coincides with a major festival honoring the emperor and his divine ability to predict eclipses. As Dayan prepares to receive the royal entourage, a visiting Jesuit astronomer is found murdered, and Li Du becomes involved in uncovering the killer. Matters are complicated by a fraught political and cultural environment that makes it difficult to investigate. There are plenty of false clues and gratifying twists before things are wrapped up satisfyingly. Excellent writing and the charming stories of traveling storyteller Hamza further elevate this novel above the typical historical suspense.
VERDICT The mix of history, thriller, and layers of storytelling make for a complex and rewarding novel that deserves a wide readership. A fine debut for an author with more books, one hopes, to come. [See Prepub Alert, 3/23/15.]

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