Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
Narrator: David Shih
Series: Li Du #1
Published by Macmillan Audio on September 1, 2015
Source: Library
Genres: Historical Mystery
Length: 11 hrs 55 mins
Pages: 321
Format: Audiobook
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three-half-stars

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.

Li Du was an imperial librarian. Now he is an exile. Arriving in Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border, he is surprised to find it teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. All have come for a spectacle unprecedented in this remote province: an eclipse of the sun commanded by the Emperor himself.

When a Jesuit astronomer is found murdered in the home of the local magistrate, blame is hastily placed on Tibetan bandits. But Li Du suspects this was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can't keep his own story straight.

Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the mountain pass that will take him out of China forever. He must choose whether to leave, and embrace his exile, or to stay, and investigate a murder that the town of Dayan seems all too willing to forget.

It took me a few chapters to get into Jade Dragon Mountain. The setting is amazing, but very different from most books I read. The pace at the beginning was slow, or at least the audio made it feel that way. However, once Li Du was settled in to his cousin the magistrate’s home and we met all the others there, both the household and the foreigners, the story became engrossing.

People have gathered in Dayan because the Emperor is coming and there will be a celebration of the eclipse. One of the visitors, a Jesuit astronomer, is killed in his room, poisoned. Li Du is not content with the official story and the magistrate allows him to investigate the crime. There were many people with access to the room and the tea that was poisoned, but, it’s difficult to see who gained from the older man’s murder.

The author does a wonderful job at making us feel like we’re in eighteenth-century China. She made it feel real, with its customs, politics, entertainment, and astronomy. I have to assume that she did a lot of research and allowed it to come through in her writing.

Our detective is a librarian now living in exile, with a side-kick who’s a storyteller. I love a good librarian detective, and Li Du is smart, observant, and willing to talk to people who others might overlook. The storyteller’s tales add a different type of commentary to the events. They make a good team; I hope they stick together for the next in the series.

Like any good mystery, we have a grand reveal, but then there are another two hours in the books, which made it really interesting. We get to see a little of the fallout and how the Emperor treats the news of the murder and who the culprit was. And we get to see the day of the eclipse, which does not turn out as seamless as the magistrate could have hoped.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. The mystery was well-done and was one that could only take place in the given setting. The characters were three-dimensional, a part of their culture, yes, but individuals too with their dreams, pasts, and secrets. I’ve put the second in the series on my to-read list.

About Elsa Hart

Elsa Hart is the author of three acclaimed mystery novels set in eighteenth-century China. The most recent, City of Ink, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2018. The daughter of a journalist, Elsa was born in Rome and spent much of her childhood abroad, attending international schools in Moscow and Prague. She is drawn to stories about travelers throughout history and likes to put her own characters in places that are unfamiliar to them.

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