Why I Checked It Out: I’m always up for a good mystery, and I occasionally dabble in historical fiction, so this seemed like a good choice. It also didn’t hurt that the main character, Li Du, is a librarian.
What It’s About: Li Du is a former Imperial Librarian, who lives in exile on the roads of 18th century China. He arrives in the city of Dayan, along with thousands of pilgrims who have journeyed there, in anticipation of an eclipse the Emperor has ordered. Although Li Du is trying to get to Tibet, he finds himself unable to leave the city after the mysterious death of a Jesuit astronomer. Something seems off to him, and he is soon appointed to find out just what happened, with the order that he complete the task before the emperor’s arrival. Li Du is soon immersed in the city and its blend of history, art, politics and tea. He finds an abundance of suspects including an enigmatic storyteller, the magistrate’s beautiful first consort, a merchant from the East India Company and a secretive Jesuit botanist.
Why I Liked It: Author Elsa Hart’s writing beautifully captured that distant corner of China in vivid, jewel-toned imagery. I do not know much about Imperial China, which could have made the story quite dry, but Hart managed to include the complex politics of China in the 1700s in a way that felt natural, and even necessary, to this mystery. I love when I come away from a story knowing a little bit more and feeling inspired to do a little more research of my own. The mystery itself also is captivating, with so many possible suspects I was kept guessing throughout the whole thing. When I finished, I found myself wanting more and hoping that this was the start of a mystery series. (Good news! The second book in the Li Du series, “The White Mirror,” was recently released and is available at the library.)
Who Will Like It: Readers who like classic whodunnits from Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will want to check this out. It will also appeal to readers of historical fiction who like to find themselves immersed in the worlds of the past.