Say You're Sorry by Michael Robotham is, as usual, a worthy addition to his Joe O'Loughlin series. I've read 7 of his Joe O'Loughlin books and one excellent stand-alone: Life or Death. The books are generally pretty dark, and this one is no exception. Two young girls disappear and are never found. Three years later, Joe and his daughter are visiting Oxford and he is called in on the vicious murder of a man and his wife. In the same time frame, a young woman's body is discovered frozen in a local lake.
Robotham keeps the suspense palpable. There are so many things I like about this series: the protagonist has Parkinson's, his sidekick -Vincent Ruiz, the suspense, the pacing. What I like less: the brutal and bizarre nature of many of the crimes.
I'm quite committed to Robotham's books, but I could do with a little less malicious evil.
Crime/Police Procedural. 2012. 433 pages.
Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart is a debut novel set in China in 1708. Li Du, formerly an imperial librarian in The Forbidden City, is now an exile making his way through the provinces. He finds himself in Dayan, an outpost on the Tibetan border, where his cousin is the magistrate. Li Du's purpose is to get his papers checked before crossing into Tibet. His cousin the magistrate also wants Li Du to move on quickly as Li Du's exile has caused the entire family to lose face.
The city is in the midst of preparations for a ceremony in which the Emperor is to summon an eclipse. The magistrate wants Li Du gone before the Emperor and his retinue arrive; Li Du's eagerness to leave is also evident.
However, when a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered, both the magistrate and Li Du must adjust their plans.
The pace is leisurely. Li Du investigates the murder without any modern methods. His great skills in listening and observation lead him closer to a solution, but the method is slow and precarious. Everyone has secrets, most turn out to be unimportant, but some secrets are potentially disastrous.
Hart has introduced a compelling character in Li Du and placed him in the fascinating milieu of the Qing Dynasty, an important transitional era. The Kanxi emperor's initial fondness for the Jesuits, the conflict between Jesuits and Dominicans, the greedy eagerness of the East India Company to gain a foothold in China (unsuccessfully at the time) all add interesting elements to the story.
The language is often rich and poetic in a manner reminiscent of Chinese poetry and paintings:
"The Lady Chen's family wine is famous. Plums...tasting of poetry."
A line from the description of the mountain mists: "The next break in the cloud framed a waterfall, a still, silver column too distant for him to perceive its tumbling energy."
Lid Du accidently knocks a basket with his foot, spilling some peppers to the ground "where they glowed like setting suns."
As the first in a projected series, Hart has done a fine job. The ambience of the setting is vividly imagined; the characters of Li Du and Hamza are deftly handled and ready for further development and backstories; the historical elements are fascinating.
Historical Mystery. 2015. 321 pages.
The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital. George Steiner