Elsa Hart’s JADE DRAGON MOUNTAIN

I “picked up” Jade Dragon Mountain on a browse through my libraries’ ebook sections. I thought the setting and premise sounded interesting. In the early 1700s, Li Du–an exiled imperial librarian–is traveling through the city of Dayan on the border of China and Tibet. He only wants to get past the city, but he is required to get permission from the magistrate–a cousin who he hasn’t seen in years, since he shamed the whole family with his exile. A body turns him into a detective, and he must solve the murder before the trouble can distrupt the Emperor’s imminent visit.

The mystery itself is good, with multiple viable suspects and a complex enough plot that is keeping me engaged but never confusing me.

It’s the writing, though, that is putting the author on my always-watch-for-another-of-their-books list. Don’t come to this story if you want fast-paced drama or high-stakes conflict. Come to it, instead, for the lovely prose, the methodical investigation, and the peaceful mood that still manages to support the quiet tension of the story.

As Li Du is leaving Dayan, determined to accept, without question, the death of a kind and curious elderly “foreigner,” he rests on the trail and watches the mist crawl up the mountainside and break apart into small windows for him to peek through. I haven’t seen enough Chinese art to be an expert, but the writing seemed to me to capture perfectly, through words, the feeling in the watercolors and jade sculptures of mountains with tiny trees and rivers and animals and people scattered along trails and beside rivers.

“The quiet deepened into silence. Li Du did not move but rested his eyes on the soft, white expanse. As he watched, the cloud shifted and broke. He saw, as if through a window, a tree on the opposite side of the gorge. It was a dead, hollowed oak, blackened by fire. Only one branch remained, reaching out perpendicular to the trunk. The vapor thickened, the window closed, and the tree was gone.

Another opening appeared. Through this new window Li Du saw movement, and thought he could make out the rounded back of a little bear trundling across a clearing into a copse of evergreens. Again the mist moved, erasing the scene.”

No gunshots, car chases, or explosions. Just beauty and intrigue and questions to be answered.

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