Atmosphere is the word which jumps immediately to mind regarding Eliot Pattinson s Mandarin Gate. From the first page of Mandarin Gate to the last the country of Tibet plays an integral part in the story. Tibet is not a character in the story – not like the way New York is sometimes a character in stories – it is an unforgiving country filled with those who encourage forgiveness. The subtext of the novel, not that any reader will miss it, is: Tibetans just want to be left alone. It is a sentiment which anyone who seeks freedom can respect but it is one at odds with the Chinese vision of Tibet as a part of China and therefore part of the Maoist vision disseminated from Beijing.
Mandarin Gate is the latest in a series of Inspector Shan novels. In this particular case Inspector Shan is the inspector of ditches and other minor waterways and dams. The job as a ditch inspector gives Shan a lot of unfettered movement in the district and because he is his own boss it also gives him time to pursue his own interests. Shan’s interests are Buddhism and restoring old shrines and helping local monks whom he has befriended.It is around the monks and the Chinese effort to destroy Buddhism and the Tibetan way of life that this story rotates. When Shan witnesses a monk commit suicide and then stumbles onto a murder scene the two become inextricably linked in his police mind. Regardless of his duties of ditch inspector and seemingly immune to concepts of personal security Shan investigates the murders with the type of ferocity which would make Spenser proud.
There is much to recommend Mandarin Gate. The story is interesting, the people are well drawn as are the locales but there is a caveat: there are a few passages here and there where the reader may have to back up and reread something because there is a jump in the text which doesn’t quite seem to make sense. It is a small thing which does not ultimately affect the outcome of the story but it was a minor annoyance.
All in all Mandarin Gate is a very good read and definitely worth picking up. There is a beauty to being able to come into any series and be able to read the book as a standalone with the assurance that there are more out there if you are interested. I am interested and plan to pick up the rest of the Shan novels as soon as I get the chance.