I have a new career goal - to become a scholar recluse. I picked up the idea from reading Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart. The story takes place in China in 1708 and concerns exiled imperial librarian Li Du who now wanders the country with a handful of possessions. Known as a scholar recluse he carries a few books with him: a small collection of published travel journals to guide his paths.
Li Du stops in Dayan, a town in the wilder southern region of China, to request papers to travel to Tibet. Tulishen the magistrate who can issue the papers is not very friendly although the two men are cousins and grew up together.
Before Li Du can go on his way, there is a murder. The magistrate reluctantly asks Li Du to stay and solve the crime. He will have to depend on his powers of observation and investigative skills. He suspects that the motive for the deaths that occur has to do with political shenanigans and past rivalries and the incursion of The West into The East. Much of the tale revolves around the planned celebration of a coming solar eclipse that is believed to have been predicted by the Emperor (timely since we will be experiencing a similar one in a few weeks). There is also a traveling storyteller in the mix with his tales of dragons and sultans and stars and stones.
But the story is only one of the reasons I liked this book so much. The images and descriptions of the landscape, the habits, the clothing, the tea ceremonies, the books, and the buildings are enchanting. I enjoyed the mystical look at death, spirits, the skies, and reverence for ancestors.
Here is a description of the library in the magistrate's gated residence:
The stairs leading to the open doors of the library were guarded by four creatures of white marble: a lion, a dragon, a phoenix, and a tortoise. Li Du passed through the doors and into a large room furnished with bookcases that radiated from a central point like spokes on a wheel. He started down the nearest aisle. Its shelves were full of books bound in identical black silk and arranged in matching boxes like stern ranks of soldiers.....
Li Du inhaled with pleasure the scent of paper and dry cedar wood.
How could I not enjoy a book that stars a librarian? Plus, the cover is gorgeous. I have already begun the second Li Du mystery, The White Mirror. A most worthy series indeed.
And, I think I will make a terrific scholar recluse.