A wonderful book that not only provides an interesting mystery, in a traditional style, but also effectively delivers vivid picture of 18th Century China, in its politics, environment, and society. Further, I got a strong sense of the world view, which was heavily cynical, of the residents of country on the verge of a dramatic shift from authoritarian isolation to sudden colonialization by a smaller but militarily stronger Europe. We know the history of what is to come, and even the more perceptive people of the time see the writing on the wall, but it is interesting to witness a last (or close to last) hurrah and flex of China’s muscles, even if it is all ultimately an ephemeral victory.
Elsa Hart evokes a detective who uses powers of deduction that would cause Holmes to nod appreciatively. Many times authors attempt this technique yet it comes off as too clever and contrived. Not so here, which is even more laudable as this is a debut novel. I will definitely read any more in this series that Ms. Hart writes. Li Du is a very interesting character. Like Holmes, he lives a life that is mostly outside society. While Holmes’ isolation is partly based on choice, and partly on his bizarre and abrasive personality, Li Du is actually an exile, banished on the political whim of the emperor. The story ends on a note that, without giving away any of the plot, certainly sets the scene for many future adventures.
Careful research that elevates the story rather than bog it down. Great pacing that accelerates to the dramatic conclusion (several conclusions, actually). Fascinating characters, especially the storyteller Hazma who adds color to the plot and steals virtually every scene in which he is involved. I do hope that he features in future installments. And finally, a very believable and multi-layered mystery.