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The Skull Mantra (Inspector Shan #1)

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4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  1,909 ratings  ·  289 reviews
The corpse is missing its head and is dressed in American clothes. Found by a Tibetan prison work gang on a windy cliff, the grisly remains clearly belong to someone too important for Chinese authorities to bury and forget. So the case is handed to veteran police inspector Shan Tao Yun. Methodical, clever Shan is the best man for the job, but he too is a prisoner, deported ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 30th 2008 by Minotaur Books (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Barb Middleton
Apr 08, 2013 Barb Middleton rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: michelle ward
Shelves: adult, mystery
What a mystery masterpiece! I would recommend keeping notes on the different Tibetan sects such as ragyapa's, purbas, and so on; plus, the complex Tibetan Buddhism theological elements that define culture and make people act the way they do. I got so caught up in the mystery that I quit taking notes and then forgot which sect was responsible for what and had to backtrack to refresh my brain. Of course, you readers who don't forget details (I hate you) won't need any notes. That said, this is one ...more
Monica
Interesting to read the mixed reviews about this book, which I freaking LOVED and blew through in three nights.
The Tibetan setting is fascinating and beautifully rendered, and I learned an enormous amount about the Buddist religion. I also liked that while the Chinese regime is depicted as horrifically brutal as most oppressive regimes are, Pattison has still created sympathetic, human Chinese characters and resisted the easy temptation to reduce the Tibetan vs. Chinese stuggle into a cartoonis
...more
Carl
I'm being generous in giving this 3 stars. In a way, it reminded me of a Tony Hillerman book: a body found in mysterious circumstances, which can only be explained by delving into the native culture/religion, which is at odds with the modern, conquering culture, so someone must bridge that gap to understand, thus find, the killer(s). Add a remote, beautiful, exotic location, an intricate plot, and you may have a great book.

The main problem with this book was the overly intricate and dense plot,
...more
Kristena West
I have read every single book- in this series. I am giving it five stars as the author has done a bold deed in revealing ancient secret Tibetan esoteric information imbedded in the storyline.
" An international lawyer by training, early in his career Pattison began writing on legal and business topics, producing several books and dozens of articles published on three continents. In the late 1990's he decided to combine his deep concerns for the people of Tibet with his interest in venturing into
...more
PaulaB
I knew it was good from the get go, not simple, not easy, but a very well built story, full of details, making it difficult for you but still grabbing your attention every step of the way. And it is indeed a very good crime story.
What I especially liked though, were the details of the characters' names. It's a very cunning way to keep you sharp while you read, and also to state the difference between the Chinese and the Tibetan - it's very hard to keep track and if you don't pay attention you w
...more
Nancy Oakes
(read in 2005)

As a debut mystery, this one turned out pretty well, which is something I do not say often. The plot was good, the characterization done well, and the writing kept me interested until I finished.

Shan Tao Yun was a highly placed investigator in Beijing who has found himself in the Chinese version of a gulag in the Tibetan mountains. His mates in the prison camp consist largely of Tibetan monks who have been arrested at various times with the takeover of the PRC in Tibet. While they
...more
J
BEWARE OF SPOILERS. I DON'T HIDE OR PROMOTE MY REVIEWS.

How can one book be so bleak and so uplifting?

I've not studied Tibet, so I don't independently know whether Pattison got the land and culture right (except for broad political outlines in recent Tibetan history, which I am familiar with.)

But it sure seems as though the author spent years absorbing the environment.

The hero, Shan -- an independent-thinking political prisoner who's ethnic Chinese -- is plucked from his Tibetan work camp to use
...more
Michael
Outstanding mystery with great character development, a satisfying mystery, and a great window into the struggle of the Tibetan people against cultural annihilation by the Chinese. In this first of the series, a former criminal investigator from Beijing, Shan, is residing as a political prisoner in a work camp in Tibet along with near 200 Buddhist monks and local dissidents. A murder of the local Chinese prosecutor by beheading leads the county bureaucrat, Colonel Tan, to engage Shan to find a s ...more
S.H. H Villa
A couple of months ago I had a cold and was searching the shelves for something that would take my mind off the discomfort, something fast moving and entertaining. Gorky Park, yes, years since I read it, only the vaguest memory of the plot, with Martin Cruz Smith’s smooth and humorous style. It was falling apart, so I read it in pieces, and then that was so good, I read Polar Star, Red Square, Wolves Eat Dogs and Stalin’s Ghost again. Smith writes extremely well, especially his first book Gorky ...more
Yvonne
3.5 Stars The main character, Shan Tao Yung, a former inspector, has been in a gulag in Tibet for the past 3 years working on road building in the mountains. Shan is the lone Chinese prisoner amongst the Tibetans because while investigating a crime, he forgot temporarily about the primary rule of not offending the Beijing Communist party. But even though Shan is at first viewed with suspicion by the Buddhist prisoners, through being taken under the wings of the Religious leader in the prison an ...more
HBalikov
A first class mystery! A Chinese political prisoner, now on a road gang in Tibet finds himself forced to investigate a beheading when the corpse turns up on the construction site. I learned a lot about Tibet history and its people, and almost as much about Buddhism. Pattison does this while not breaking the plot. He has a great sense of characterization and, at the end, you don't doubt that things happened in the way they did. One question remains: How soon do I pick up another of his books?

Asid
...more
Joyce Lagow
1st in the Inspector Shan Tao Yun series, set in contemporary Tibet.[return][return]Shan, a former inspector in the Ministry of Justice in Beijing, is now a prisoner in a hard labor brigade in Tibet, having suddenly fallen out of favor with the Minster. He is the only Chinese in a work gang of Tibetan Buddhist monks. After 4 years with the monks, learning from them as they continue to teach and practice their religion, Shan himself is more Tibetan than Chinese.[return][return]But after the disco ...more
Bruce
This mystery is intriguing and well written. However, more intriguing to me is its cultural and political description and commentary, occurring in Tibet and portraying the tensions between the Chinese rulers and the Tibetan people. The monastic and Buddhist culture is fascinating, and their intimate place in daily life is illuminating. The protagonist, Shan, is a Chinese man on a largely Tibetan work gang in the gulag, sentenced to an indefinite number of years on trumped up charges when his inv ...more
Sophie
I usually try to make sure to read series in the correct order, but because of ~various circumstances~ I didn't do that in the case of this series and I ended up reading the first book after having read the second and the third.

It's been a while since I've loved a series of books as much as I love these, so please don't expect an objective review here.

What was interesting for me to see was that in comparison to the second and the third book, the first one resembles much more a traditional crim
...more
Justin
This mystery novel is the first in the Inspector Shan Tao Yun series, set in Tibet. This novel was awarded the Edgar Allen Poe (Edgar) Award by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and with good reason. The short version of my review is: The MWA obviously loved it, and so will you!

Inspector Shan is a sympathetic character, a former Beijing Fraud Inspector consigned to a Tibetan work camp for being just a little too efficient. Although not nominally Buddhist (his father was a secret Taoist), Sha
...more
Annabelle
I loved this book. It has such a unique and creative setting and conceit, a Chinese Detective who was a good party member but a bit too honest, is sent to the Gulag in Tibet, and is transformed by the Tibetan Buddhist priest he is imprisoned with. He becomes transformed and bonded to their struggle, trying to keep the Chinese military from abusing them more. He vividly depicts the landscape, the Buddhist subculture, beliefs, practices, and the unremitting genocidal practices of the Chinese. He a ...more
Audrey
This is the first in a series and I found it to be a very interesting book.

It takes place in Tibet and the main character, Shan, is actually a prisoner working on a bridge building detail, before he was imprisoned for political reasons, he had been an investigator, when some of the workers discover a headless body, Shan is told by his Warden that he is to work with the infamous Col. Tan to find out the identity of the corpse as well as who is the murderer.

This proves to be a very difficult task
...more
Jacqie
I really did love this book. The reason for four stars instead of five is that I had some difficulty with patching together the engrossing scenes to make sense of the whole plot. This is probably user error on my part- the book is rich and densely written and I think I tried to read it too quickly. The author uses a mystery framework to explore the situation between Tibet and China, Chinese politics, and China's relationship with Western business. There is so much in here. Shan is a wonderful ch ...more
Joyce
Hearing Nancy Pearl on NPR this morning reminded me that I had read this gripping mystery a few years back, and I highly recommend it.

Summary: The corpse is missing its head and is dressed in American clothes. Found by a Tibetan prison work gang on a windy cliff, the grisly remains clearly belong to someone too important for Chinese authorities to bury and forget. So the case is handed to veteran police inspector Shan Tao Yun. Methodical, clever Shan is the best man for the job, but he too is a
...more
Margie
Jul 15, 2012 Margie rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Margie by: Margery
I didn't dislike this, and he certainly writes well in describing Tibet, but I had trouble with it. I wasn't able to pick up on any of the clues, many of which were in the form of koans. The bits of the puzzle were like drops of water; shapeless, without defined edges, and completely transparent. Together they formed something rather amorphous. Isn't part of the reason we read mysteries the joy of putting the puzzle pieces together?
The book made me feel stupid, which is never a good thing. I'm
...more
Dorka
I've just finished this astonishing book, and I have to say it became one of my favorites. I think it's wonderful how there aren't many landscape descriptions and still I felt like being there, like I could even feel those mountains, smell them... how there isn't much description of person either but it felt like those people got closer and closer to me with each turned page. It's one of those books you just can't put down. The only two things I can mention as negative, is that it was so hard to ...more
Jennifer
This is a Nancy Pearl pick. I learned a lot about Tibet and the relationship between the Tibetans and the Chinese but for a murder mystery, it was very complex and challenging to keep everything straight. Maybe a little too much detail. But it was certainly interesting. One hopes when one reads such a book that the background information is accurate so you can at least feel that you learned something.
Alison
Lots of information about Tibetan culture and the current atmosphere in that area of the world. The story line is a murder investigation which I always find compelling. I particularly enjoyed this book as it was set in the area of China I recently visited so much of the descriptions where very real to me.
Bryn Hammond
I've seen this described as a 'campaign thriller'. My interest was in the 'campaign' part of that, the look at the situation in Tibet, but the 'thriller' part was cliche-ridden and I was bored through most of the book. It's true I don't read thrillers.
Nick
After reading this very satisfying mystery novel, I wish I knew more about Tibet. So, what more can one ask of a book than a satisfying plot and resolution, interesting characters, and a setting that arouses one's desire to learn?
Kelly H. (Maybedog)
I just couldn't get into this book. It was so slow-moving and the descriptions of the torture just too horrific. It's too bad because it sounded like it would be right up my alley.
Cheryl
The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison is a beautifully written, complex, lovely novel about a Chinese prisoner (Inspector Shan Tao Yun) in a Tibetan rehabilitation camp. Shan was a an investigator who angered the wrong party members and was sent to the camp for "rehabilitation". In the camp, Shan falls in love with the Tibetan people, their religion, and their way of life. When a dead body is found at the work camp, Shan investigates. The plot is complicated, weaving, and a bit mystical -- a bit th ...more
Jennifer Kleffner
I picked this up at a thrift store, because they compared it to Smilla's Sense of Snow, which I thought was kind of other worldly and weird and wonderful. And it lived up to that. It's a murder mystery that takes place in modern Tibet. The main character is actually a prisoner in a "reeducation camp" who is tapped to investigate a murder that is discovered by the work crew he is on. He was an investigator before he got crosswise with the Chinese authorities and was sent to Tibet.

Great insight in
...more
Melaslithos
Ce roman m’a surpris, touché, interpellé. En effet, derrière une intrigue policière complexe et bien menée, ce roman est aussi l’occasion de découvrir tout un pan du Tibet qu’il est difficile pour nous de vraiment saisir. Ainsi, par exemple, je ne pensais pas qu’il existait encore aujourd’hui des camps de travaux forcés tels que décrits dans le livre (réaction de ma mère, chinoise, lorsque je lui en ai parlé : “mais ça fait longtemps que ça n’existe plus !), mais je crains que cela ne fasse part ...more
Paul
Arkady Renko in Tibet. I mean that as a huge compliment. Gorky Park and Polar Star are two of my favorite crime procedurals ever, and The Skull Mantra has the same feel.

If anything, Pattison does an even better job of invoking his setting. Tibet becomes a living place in this book. Religion, politics, social strata all jump off the page.

Unlike most books I've read over the past few months, The Skull Mantra is not a page-turner, at least for me. There is a strangeness to the Tibetan setting and t
...more
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Edgar Award winning Eliot Pattison has been described as a "writer of faraway mysteries," a label which is particularly apt for someone whose travel and interests span a million miles of global trekking, visiting every continent but Antarctica.

An international lawyer by training, Pattison first combined his deep concerns for the people of Tibet with his interest in fiction writing in The Skull Ma
...more
More about Eliot Pattison...

Other Books in the Series

Inspector Shan (8 books)
  • Water Touching Stone (Inspector Shan, #2)
  • Bone Mountain (Inspector Shan, #3)
  • Beautiful Ghosts (Inspector Shan, #4)
  • Prayer of the Dragon (Inspector Shan, #5)
  • The Lord of Death (Inspector Shan, #6)
  • Mandarin Gate (Inspector Shan, #7)
  • Soul of the Fire (Inspector Shan, #8)
Bone Rattler: A Mystery of Colonial America (Duncan McCallum, #1) Water Touching Stone (Inspector Shan, #2) Bone Mountain (Inspector Shan, #3) Beautiful Ghosts (Inspector Shan, #4) Prayer of the Dragon (Inspector Shan, #5)

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“Investigations, meditations, careers, relationships were much the same, he mused. They failed because no one thought to ask the right question.” 3 likes
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