Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart
Li Du was a librarian at the Imperial Library in the Forbidden City until he was exiled. After wandering for a few years he arrives at the small city of Dayan on the Tibetan border. Unbeknownst to him the Emperor will be in Dayan in days to celebrate the eclipse. Li Du reports in with the local magistrate, protocol for exiles, and plans on leaving the next day. That night after a storytelling session, one of the guests, a Jesuit priest is dies. Li Du checks the dead man’s room and suspects foul play. The magistrate, who happens to be Li Du’s cousin, doesn’t want to believe that it was murder but allows Li Du to investigate. Will he find the killer before the Emperor arrives? Or will Li Du suffer further disgrace at the hands of the Emperor?
I knew next to nothing about China in the 1780s, especially the southwestern border regions. This book really brings the time and place to life. Li Du is the perfect reluctant tour guide, familiar with most of the customs, but still removed from the workings of the place and current politics.
Mystery lovers will enjoy the plotting and historical fiction lovers will enjoy the detail and atmosphere.