Skeleton God: Eliot Patterson
In a country plagued with so many taboos, laws and tainted people lives someone that comes out and claims the bodies of some. Ghosts assault people and lives have been hidden and buried away as author Eliot Patterson takes us inside the world of Shan Tau and the Skeleton God. Living now as a constable in a remote town in Tibet, while often ostracized, imprisoned at one point and abused in many ways, Colonel Tan, not his best friend realizes that Shan is of great value to the people and to him. For helping him with his quests he might get to see his son, Ko, who is in prison but can see him five days every month if he behaves. An ancient tomb is violated and within the hole you will find a nun named Nymia that was attacked by ghosts. Within the tomb or grave itself with the old num are what is left of a gilded Buddhist saint buried 100’s of years ago and even more startling along with these mummified remains, the remains of a Chinese soldier buried and murdered fifty years before and an American soldier hours earlier why? Within this outstanding historical fiction novel we learn more about the Red Guards, Chinese looting of Tibetan shrines and monasteries and a conspiracy that goes high up in the Chinese army. Speaking English, Chinese and Tibetan allows him to communicate with many and because the Chinese officials would like to obliterate Tibetan customs and culture, Shan has to be careful not to irritate the guards, the knobs or cops, and hopefully gain the trust of the local people. With Ko sent to a prison camp he watches his P’s and Q’s carefully and treads carefully. When Shan decides to investigate the murders under orders with the help of his deputy and supposedly under the careful eye of a knob, what he learns about the truth about this so called officer will astound readers as the shoe falls on a different foot and alliances are gained but not how you might think. When uncovering what is in the grave he is able to do a mini assessment of all of the bodies and brings the old nun to safety making sure that no one knows where she is being hidden. Shan Tao Yun is a powerful character with many shades within his personality. Able to camouflage his sentiments when necessary he is not quite ready for this investigation. He wishes he had time to lament, pray or meditate to the gods to help guide him through. The People’s Liberations Army and the Hammer of Freedom Brigade are everywhere and you never know when they will imprison someone, shoot them on sight and have a strong presence in this area. Imagine being hauled off to an interment camp or prison. Imagine the temples taken over, Buddhist temples, families separated and their being reeducated and haunted by demon ghosts and gods that are everywhere. Shan is haunted by his past, misses his friend Lodesh who is hiding in the mountains, sends Lodi there too to be safe as we get to know the dead when he uncovers the secrets beneath the grave. Shan is astute and as he examines the contents of the grave, the Tibetan artifacts we can hear the gods speaking to us, visit the scared places and take part in the investigation along with him, his deputy and the knob.
The Pure Water College, in the Medicine Mountains held the key to what was happening there. Kolsang used the medicines to heal people but no one not even Nyima, his niece would discuss it. The setting Yangkar, a place with secrets, demons, gods and evil. Nyima said that Jake, the American had gone goo far and decided to sleep in a cave for the night and the next morning she showed Jig, his sister, where to hide her car and how to climb up to a cairn that he build. Meet Captain Yintai and General Lau two men on a quest for gold, a treasure, power and greed. Two men that relished in the punishing of prisoners, people and anyone that gets in their way especially Shan, and hopefully taking it out on his son, Ko. Shan handles things head on and faced both Yintai and Lau telling them that they did not come to Lhadrung County because they learned about the two dead soldiers, their bodies had not even been found because a foreigner reported it. How would they know/ how would they have come? They own their own ghosts and the job that they wanted to complete would take more lives and steal the wealth for themselves. The author described hard labor prisons, as a phosphorus plant is the general’s favorite torture making the prisons splashes it into their ears and worse. Lau is evil and his assistant Yintai worse. Jinhua spoke as he told that Lau killed people but he also killed his partner. Lau’s payment for all the murders is a momentary fright. With the aid of Colonel Tan who for once is on his side, Shan teams with Jig, Nyima, the doctor who cared for her as the author shares more about the Pure Water College that did exist, the healing touch of the spirits of the landscape. But, the end is near the final words are harsh as Pema’s ashes are at stake, the astrologer’s chart stolen, the death poem written and the hands it winds up in might destroy more than just Shan, Tan the legacy of Pema and the others. Rikyu explains that there were two men in black clothes they took Jig who begged them to stop but would not. They said they would trade her mother’s ashes for the location of the second treasure. They took her anyway after sprinkling some of the ashes. Nyima repeat that their hearts are black but when the entire truth comes out the outcome will shock reader. Confrontations that are enlightening and tons and tons of gold at stake and a General who will stop at nothing, not even killing his own men, to attain the greed and wealth he wants. Killing his own constables, showing no remorse, ordering around anyone in sight, thinking that he had Shan in tow, Sergeant Jengtse a traitor to both sides, thinking that he was going to win you won’t believe the twist that author Eliot Patterson creates at the end not only for the characters but for the readers too. What happens when the General takes matters into his greedy hands and kills off a company of his own loyal soldiers? Who makes him pay? Jinhua was out to get revenge for his partner. Marpa and Shiva, Yara, Dorchen Dinghri and Lodi join in for an ending that will bring tears to your eyes, fear into the heart of some as the bullets fly, the bodies fall, and a member of the Committee of Leading Citizens learns the true meaning of expendable. A set of papers outlines it all as Jig and Ko translate what was written over on paper recycled and reused. What they learn is that the witness to the soldier’s death drew these as a hard labor prisoner. The history of the Red Guard is revealed, a father and son open up to each other even though Ko has to return to prison but for how long? Lau did not think there was evidence to the atrocities that he committed nor do he think that a faceless witness would come forward and change it all. The goal reached 6000 pounds and three tons of gold. Ninety-six thousand ounces of gold can you imagine the millions and that much money and he wanted more. The killers are in Yangkar and prisoners are shoveling phosphorous and the death toll will rise even more if Lau is not stopped. What they did to prisoners you will learn and see for yourself when you read chapter 14. While Shan and Jinhua labor in silence and pick up the ice shards that will lead to the riches that Lau wants, Shan takes action, someone shoots, Jengtse shows his true colors and Jig just wanted to understand Tibet as her mother wanted her too. Yara did not want to get a registration card but why did she change her mind at the end? Where will this take the prisoners and what will the final fate of Shan and Tan be when faced with Lau and his assistant’s determination to end it all? Lha gyal Lo! Victory to the gods! Beware of the Skeleton God! Where will we find Shan next and will he finally get the freedom and recognition he deserves?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine