The Infidel Stain

Suggested by Brad Nelson • The police are unwilling to investigate a bizarre set of murders in a poor neighborhood in London. Adventurers Blake and Avery, freshly returned from years in India, agree to head an investigation at the request of a local aristocratic philanthropist.
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33 Responses to The Infidel Stain

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I found this book by chance browsing the “historical fiction” section of my Libby library app which links to ebooks in my local library.

    Although I’m only 17% through this, it already seem like a winner. This is reminiscent of a detective novel written by Dickens but a breezier read.

    The book is rich in details of grimy London in 1841. Steam engines are in the midst of transforming the country’s transportation system. “The Infidel Stain” is a sequel to “The Stranger Vine,” although I have no idea if there is any connection of the plot. And there are at least three books that feature the main characters, Blake and Avery.

    The “infidels,” as explained in a historical note at the beginning, “were political radicals with atheist and republican beliefs. They were regarded by the government as dangerous revolutionaries.”

    The politics might be complicated. Ostensibly what the “infidels” want is the right for the common man to vote. His Lordship, the philanthropist, is clearly on the side against this democratizing of England. His stated reason for financing this investigation is to show the rabble that the wealthy care.

    Blake disagrees with Lord Allington and states, “I do not think the Chartists want revolution: I think they simply want the vote.” Lord Allington, however, believes otherwise:

    I see the Chartists as the great and looming danger of the age. I believe that if we do not take care we will be in danger of surrendering the working classes to them and their dangerous ideas. We would be ruled by the mob. There are those, like the police commissioner, who believe such threats can be quelled with the police truncheons. I believe we must win hearts and minds by showing the laboring classes that we can and do govern in their interests and care about their welfare.”

    Thus the “historical novel” nature of this book. Whether there are plots within plots regarding Lord Allington’s stated intentions, we do not know yet. He may be as plain and well-meaning as he states. Lord Allington also explains, “But you must agree that the multitude is not ready for the vote. They are not sufficiently educated for the responsibility. They may one day be, but not yet.” And regarding the “Chartists” he also states, “As for the Chartists, I did at one stage believe it might be possible to find what you call ‘common ground’ with them, but I was disappointed. And they are dangerous: they have the power to rally a whole class, and for all their peaceful claims, their true aims are revolution, the death of property rights, anarchy. I know that in the eyes of some, the governing class — I mean the aristocracy — may sometimes seem to enjoy its privileges and do little enough in return for them. But we are the best hope for the stability and greatness of this country, though I admit we must do more to demonstrate our concern for every soul.”

    Lord Allington eloquently states the stance that any enlightened sort of aristocracy must have. There can be little doubt that there can be two mean sides: the uncaring “privileged” and the mob would would thoughtlessly tear down society’s pillars in a spate of revolution justified by one grievance or another. We face the same thing today. And, interestingly it is arguable we are moving away from a republican form of government (which balanced the mob and the aristocracy) to a pure political aristocracy wherein all our lives will be managed for us by our betters.

    So this indeed is a historical novel with some interesting issues that intersect with today, although it’s unknown at this point whether any of the political aspects are mere red herrings for some darker and deeper motive for murder.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I recall that my European history covered the Chartists briefly, but I don’t recall their precise aims or whether they were considered revolutionary. In any case, I think this would be early in their career as activists.

    Who wrote this book, anyway? You didn’t say, and I couldn’t read it on the picture of the cover.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      M.J. (Miranda) Carter, a British historian. I love the name Miranda.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      You can always click on the links, either the Amazon link or the graphic of the book itself. That will take you to Amazon’s page with all the info, including the author’s name. Just one click. Be adventurous!

      Whether the book so far outlines the issue of the Chartists accurately, I don’t know. But it is a historical novel and I already likely know more than I did before. I had never heard of the Chartists. But we do see this ongoing push-pull between the inherent classes of society. There will always be an unwashed mob and their will always be those with more skills and ambition. One will always have the propensity to tear things down out of utter primal ignorance. The other will always tend to want to horde power out of an inflated sense of know-it-all-ism.

      Frankly, given where England is going today, I side more with Lord Allington.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I just looked up Chartism on wikipedia, and it seems that the book is reasonably accurate. They sought reform through legal means, but there were revolutionaries among them who engaged in violence, so Lord Allington was at least partly right about that. Their goals were universal manhood suffrage (finally achieved in 1918), parliamentary pay without property requirements, equal-population districts, and annual elections. Only the last has never been achieved, though the others were finally put in after Chartism itself had faded.

        The book does sound interesting, and probably the series as a whole. It’s a pity that their time in India is probably too early to become familiar with the initial fingerprinting work there.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          What we can see in hindsight is that “democracy” is the downfall of any nation. Achievement and merit are put aside. What matters most is “equality.” And the only way you can make things equal is by weighing down the achievers and pretending the many pathologies among the lower classes do not exist — even calling them “good.”

          In America, there still ought to be a requirement to own property (or at least own a business) in order to vote. You ought to have some skin in the game. What we see evolving is something Ben Franklin warned of: “When the people find that they can vote themselves money that will herald the end of the republic.”

          I’ll let you know if the book remains interesting. It’s a bit early yet to make too much of a judgment.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m through 5 chapters (about 23%) of “The Infidel Stain.” It remains quite interesting. As Baker and Avery attempt to gather any information they can regarding the two murders, they are taken deep within the bowels of low-class London life. Baker is obviously somewhat in his element although he also is obviously dressing-down in order to fit in. For Avery, even with his familiarity with the poverty of India, he’s somewhat ill at ease.

    It’s too early to tell what message this book will send. Should “the poor” be represented in Parliament via extending the vote to all males regardless as to whether they own property or not? Or is the lot of the underclass better served by their lives being managed by their betters?

    Well, in our day, the answer is “It depends.” Are blacks better off in Detroit with their Democratic masters in charge? And yet the hard reality of the grime and degradation of certain parts of London shows that man will tend to sink to his lowest state of being unless he is pulled out by someone or something.

    People can’t manage themselves…except when they can. These people living in filth and iniquity are referred to in the book as being “degraded” or “corrupted.” And it’s hard not to agree with this. You see people who are not living despite their low surroundings but come to actually love the evil of it.

    In the case of the two murders, both men owned print shops. And at least one of them was printing pornographic materials as his main business. And this type of business was often connected to prostitution. Was there some connection? Was some sort of organized crime involved? That’s why Baker and Avery were going down to the bowels of London to get information from a couple of their informants. And that’s about as far as I am in the story.

    But this picture of London — assuming that it is reasonably accurate – does what a good historical novel should. It gives you some sense of the time and place, including social and political perspectives and phenomenon.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I have checked out the first book in the series, “The Strangler Vine” and will start reading it tonight. Will let you know what I think.

    As to the period covered in “The Infidel Stain”, you might want to read “The Making of Modern England” by Asa Briggs. It covers England from about 1820 to 1870.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I see now I was not out of place in saying that this book was reminiscent of Dickens. Charles Dickens even makes a brief appearance in it. Captain Avery is a big Dickens fan and has from time to time in his investigation asked people if they knew him or where one could find him.

    Dickens enters the story briefly as he walks quickly past Avery and Blake in the street as they are heading somewhere in London. A man had walked past them at a very fast clip. Blake says something like, “If you’re looking for Dickens, there he goes.” By the time Avery looked back he was out of sight, lost in the crowd or fog.

    I’m about halfway through the book. The story right now is lagging just a bit. But it could also be on the verge of all hell breaking lose. What seems unique about this story is the realism. Most mysteries read like stereotypical mysteries with all the gadgets thrown in that you are used to.

    But this one feels different. It’s like you are being taken on an authentic investigation as one might actually proceed. You see them collecting bits and pieces of hard-won information as they talk to people who do not want to talk. This is especially gratifying after enduring (quite willingly, for sure) the convoluted, obscure, and sometimes badly-described plots of the Thorndyke novels. In this one you’re brought at a pace that seem realistic. And you are mostly not left out of the deliberations, although Blake does tend to hold back a little from Avery from time to time.

    So what’s it about so far? Who done it? It’s difficult to say. These could be murders made to look like they have some religious impulse to them — or it could be someone snuffing these purveyors of iniquity precisely because of religious impulses. Or perhaps it has to do with the political rivalry between the Chartists (who are no longer necessarily atheists as their forerunners the infidels were) and the aristocracy. Or a turf war between blackmailers and/or whorehouse operators. Unless there are some blatant clues I have failed to interpret, I just don’t know.

    M.J. Carter does a credible job describing the surroundings. At times it could be a bit too much, such as when he gives a fairly lengthy description of what someone is wearing. But this attempt at realism and setting the scene prevents the story from veering toward cookie-cutter banality. So it’s worth the effort to look up in the dictionary some of the British terms he uses. (And that’s really where ebook readers excel.)

    It is lagging just a bit at the moment. But Carter maintains a solid pace. Not too fast. Not too slow. Have you ever read a book where they introduce five or six character at the same time? Sometimes each character is referred to by his or her last name, sometimes his first, sometimes his title. All within a couple pages. It can be very very confusing. Carter does not make that mistake. This may be just a personal preference thing. But I have to believe that many writers have little idea how they sometimes overload their readers with too many names at one time.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished “The Infidel Stain” last night. This first half of the book, as I mentioned, was engaging. But the second half could be described as repeating itself (yet another walk down a dingy alley) as well as devolving to a rather conventional plot. In fact, I would say the plot is clearly grafted on, an excuse to write some historical fiction.

    But the historical fiction — assuming accuracy — makes this book more than worth reading.

    As far as point-of-view of this book, it’s certainly not a “down with the aristocracy” screed, although sympathies clearly lie at least slightly on the side of the poor (understandably so given the realities). M.J. Carter describes some very ugly facts about London’s poor.

    And there is a brief, but interesting, look inside the penal system. A brother of one of the street urchins is being held at an adult prison (in a children’s section especially carved out for them — that is, they’re not living directly with the adult population — but have absolutely no childhood amenities). He is alleged to have stolen five pounds. And with a history of petty thievery, he is sentenced to “transportation.” And I don’t mean to Disneyland. To Australia.

    And there is some logic, even compassion, to this. The kid will serve a seven year sentence and then he will be given a plot of land and a chance at a new life. It is thought (and it seems logical to me) that the justice system is doing such people a service by removing them from their degraded surroundings and the common temptations.

    The aristocracy is more in drive-by mode as far as getting into their places and attitudes. Lord Allington (based upon a real character) is a defender of the aristocracy but he wants their rule to be a benevolent one. He takes great pains to improve the lives of the poor and support the occasional reform bill in Parliament. He’s not a bad guy. He represents the attitude that ought to exist among a ruling aristocracy, if one is to be needed.

    On the other side you have the Thomas Paine-worshipping atheists of the “Infidels” who were the Radicals Version 1 prior to the tamer Chartists who were religious (sort of like our own social gospel advocates in America, it would seem). Although the Chartists are split somewhat between those who are for violence and those against, the portrait of them is not particularly unflattering. But as for the Infidels who came a decade or two before the Chartists, most of the ones in this story are retired. And the principal ones in this story have turned to the profitable trade of printing pornography. So we see where their supposedly high ideals have led them.

    At the end of the day, this book is worth the read if only to delve into a little British history. The plot is quite engaging for the first half but the story runs on for probably 100 pages too many and devolves to a rather pedestrian resolution of the murder mystery. It seemed like a gadget ending.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Dickens had the Artful Dodger transported in Oliver Twist. This also shows up in at least one Sherlock Holmes story, and for that matter in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd, though it’s set in the previous century.

      Lord Allington’s attitude, of course, is noblesse oblige.

      Note that the early progressives were very religious moralists, which is why they supported prohibition. In many ways, the 18th century artist William Hogarth was a forerunner of the better aspects of progressivism.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I don’t remember the Dickens story this was taken from, but there was a Jewish merchant who setup the kid by sticking five pounds in his pocket and then calling the cops. Supposedly he borrowed this from one of the Dickens syndicated stories. In the context of this story it was never revealed why the merchant did this. It had no relationship to the rest of the story at all. But it allowed us to see more inside the prison system.

        And I guess this is how I discriminate between so-so stories and good ones. Treating the characters like sock puppets, bending them into the position you need to advance a certain plot point, is not the mark of a real storyteller. Not that random things can’t happen.

        The author also had the affliction shown a time or two by R. Austin Freeman in his Thorndyke novels. Very often totally sensible people would do really stupid stuff just to create a sense of danger. The worst story of the Thorndyke novels had a character do this three times even though each time he nearly came to this death and before each time Thorndyke warned the fellow (usually a doctor or lawyer…certainly someone who was no dummy) of the extreme danger he was in should he venture out, particularly in an place even slightly remote or dodgy.

        Captain Avery did this a time or two.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I don’t remember the Dickens story this was taken from, but there was a Jewish merchant who setup the kid by sticking five pounds in his pocket and then calling the cops

          Fagin in “Oliver Twist.”

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Who was the kid victim?

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I was wrong about Fagin. He simply taught his street urchins how to pick pockets.

              I can’t recall the man you are talking about, but I will try to check.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Mr. Kung, I found an entry in Wiki for Dicken’s “The Old Curiosity Shop”:

                Meanwhile, Kit, having lost his job at the curiosity shop, has found new employment with the kind Mr and Mrs Garland. Here he is contacted by a mysterious ‘single gentleman’ who is looking for news of Nell and her grandfather. The ‘single gentleman’ and Kit’s mother go after them unsuccessfully, and encounter Quilp, who is also hunting for the runaways. Quilp forms a grudge against Kit and has him framed as a thief. Kit is sentenced to transportation.

                That could be it, although it doesn’t ring a bell from this book…although I don’t remember if the book specifically mentioned the characters or story. I’ve returned the book already or I’d look it up.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


                I also thought of The Old Curiosity Shop as the most likely culprit. I will try to get around to looking for the scoundrel shortly.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I had wondered about Fagin using that tactic with his trainees, since I recalled no such scene from reading the book. I haven’t read The Old Curiosity Shop.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:


                It is Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop. And Kit is his victim.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                You are in luck, Timothy. You can find The Old Curiosity Shop for free at Not to be confused with Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, an establishment I’ve been in many times over the years.

  7. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Just picked up “The Infidel Stain” from the library. Will try to start it this weekend and let you know what I think.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Let me know how it goes, Mr. Kung. I’ve just started chapter 19 in “Jade Dragon Martin.” That’s 72&%. Li Du in the last chapter has just declared he knows who the killer is. I don’t but the only possible motive for killing the old Jesuit (skip ahead if you don’t want spoiler, but this is just a guess) is that he had somehow figured out that the exact time given to the emperor for the eclipse was intentionally wrong. Someone (perhaps the guy from the East India Company) has a motive for discredited the emperor, possibly because he thinks he can strike a better deal.

      Again, that’s just a guess. I can think of no other motive and it all seems to hinging on the astronomical device that the East Indian Company had brought as a gift for the emperor.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I am about 80-90 pages into the book. Again, Avery is somewhat unbelievable. Having seen what he has in life, the man is still something of a prig and stupid. Both he and Blake are caricatures of a sort. There is little subtly in either character. The Abbot and Costello of 1840’s London detectives.

        Another thing hit me as to why I find the books somewhat odd. The author would appear to wish to transport the reader into a very different time and place. Yet her books are written in a completely modern style. Perhaps this disturbs me because I have read a great number of eighteenth and early nineteenth century English writers. Their prose is very different and generally much superior to the author’s.

        This is definitely not a book which one reads because of character development or style. Rather, the story and somewhat exotic settings are the draw.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          “The Infidel Stain” is squarely in my wheelhouse as far as being able to recommend it for a competent read. But, yeah, Avery&Blake could be better fleshed out. You’ll probably hate the ending. I did. But I think you’re right about the main draw. It’s taking you on a tour of exotic (if often squalid) settings.

          The writing is competent but could have gained from giving these characters a bit more depth. I think Blake is better defined (if only because of his brooding eccentricities and a Doc Holiday-like fearlessness) than Avery (who is…well?…what?…there to narrate the plot). Avery seems like the stand-in for the main protagonist in a Thorndyle novel (other than Thorndyke and his usual cohorts) who is often nearly invisible in terms of personality.

          The reader longs for a little bit more introspective artfulness from Carter. The writing is above-average. I wonder if Carter felt pressure to simply advance a standard plot rather than take a chance for more immersion in exotic locales and personalities. The best parts of the book are when she sets aside the plot gadgets and gets involved in the locales and personalities.

          Anyway, I thought the first half of the book was very effective. But I thought it lagged from there.

          I’m 25% into “The White Mirror” which is the sequel to “Jade Dragon Mountain.” Again we see an author who is afraid to insert some personality into a character. The author might just as well dispensed with the main character and melded him into the existing third person omniscient point of view. There’s little difference between them here.

          Still, it is a story that I like. It’s not car crashes, blood, gun fights, and curse words every five miles. This is a quieter journey that does pick up some of the vibe of the Buddhist locale with the Chinese sensibility thrown in as well.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Blake is better defined

            No doubt about it. Avery is a somewhat less sharp Dr. Watson, who could also be quite dense at times.

            In fact, I believe Carter has used the Holmes/Watson, Thorndyke/Whichever assistant, model for these books.

            I probably sound more critical than I should. Carter is very easy to read, which is a must for such books. But I believe she could have taken more time and given more thought to her writing and the books could have been excellent. Of course, who knows what her publisher wanted.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I was thinking the same thing, Mr. Kung. I wonder what kind of meddling the publisher did. The book seems to have been meddled with.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I have finished “The Infidel Stain” and it is better than “The Strangler Vine.”

                I found the reason for the murders to be somewhat far-fetched, but I suppose it could be so. But I found the murder and the hocus-pocus around them to be unbelievable.

                I, like you, get it that London had many sinks-of-sin and filthy streets and lanes, but it is a bit overdone.

                I would also make some comments about the modern political aspects of the murderer, but that would give too much away.

                One thing that can be taken from the novel is how close the “infidels” track with the modern hedonistic, libertine, God-hating leftist philosophy. The impetus was not so much economic equality as anarchy i.e. Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt.” Too often what those thous wilt is depraved, perverted and generally sick. And they have the temerity to tell us that their chicken shit is really chicken salad. How stupid do they believe are?

                I have often pointed out that much of what we are assaulted with these days has old roots. “The Infidel Strain” just confirms this.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I have finished “The Infidel Stain” and it is better than “The Strangler Vine.”

    From what you had described, Mr. Kung, I had the sense that “The Infidel Stain” was at least a slightly better novel.

    It would have been cool if the author had added some variety instead of going up and down those filthy streets. Okay, we get it, you know? Other parts of London in that day and age surely would have held interest as well. Imagine setting the dirty little girl on a task where she had to go to some of the better parts on some quest. You’d get the contrast and see this shining world through her eyes.

    Yes, the infidels are reminiscent of the modern Left.

    I thought the plot went all to shit at the end. There was no reason to turn Lord Allington into such a caricature. A man desirous to good good while battling through the often bitter realities of this world would have been better and nobler. Instead the author caved to the typical comic-book caricature of the Christian. They’re either too pious, too depraved (including his sister), or too crazy. Just junk, really. She should have submitted her manuscript first to the Kung & Nelson Plot and Character Evaluation Service. Much of this was correctable by just gentle nudges, not total re-writes.

    The murders themselves seemed out of context to the rest of the novel. (Spoiler). The author tries to tie it all together with a neat bow at the very end making the sister some kind lunatic Christian trying to protect her brother. Maybe this would make sense inside of an Agatha Christie novel. But here it was out of place. I found the first half of the book generally well laid out and thoughtful. And then it’s like she rushed to get a done because she had a boat to catch or something.

    And how about perhaps allowing Avery & Black to catch the murdering in the act of setting up another one of those Judas-type murders. Instead, the novel is satisfied with sort of flying above it all and describing it later. To some extent, this can be effective in a mystery. You don’t want the reader to have all the pieces of the puzzle. But at some point you need to draw them in and start to reveal things. That’s why the ending is so bad. It’s just thrown in at the end. Nothing seems to lead up to it. It’s tacked on, as if the author had run out of time.

    Still, there were enough threads in the story to make it interesting to read most of the way. It simply misses being a good book rather than one that is clearly indicative of someone who can write but who has not quite given us the whole ball of wax.

  9. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    there were enough threads in the story to make it interesting to read most of the way. It simply misses being a good book rather than one that is clearly indicative of someone who can write but who has not quite given us the whole ball of wax.

    This is why I have been somewhat harsh with my criticism of Carter. Clearly, she can write well when she wishes. She puts together an interesting story in a fascinating locale and then lets the ball drop due to, I suspect, publisher’s pressure or a personal satisfaction with the mediocre as opposed to demanding the best from oneself. Or she doesn’t believe her readership is bright enough to digest something a bit more sophisticated.

    Perhaps I am over-interpreting things and she simply doesn’t have the talent to do better work, but I think I am probably correct.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Has anyone read any of Carter’s actual historical writing (if she’s a historian, there must be some) to find out what quality of writer she is there?

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        From M.J. Carter’s web site I see that she has written a biography of The Three Emperors. She has also written a biography of Anthony Blunt.

        It’s interesting that on her website “The Infidel Stain” has been rebranded as “The Printer’s Coffin.” I can understand wanting to distance oneself from the word, “infidel,” which could be confusing. Whether PC impulses prompted this change, I think it quite likely regarding a British writer.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Not every ending has to be happy. But the conclusion of “The Infidel Stain” just doesn’t seem like the proper conclusion of the preceding novel. Good movies can be ruined by bad ending. I think the same is true of novels.

      In this case, the overall story endures despite the bad ending. And I won’t say that writing is easy. Everyone has a story in their head but getting it on paper is not easy. And with a historical novel, there is a lot of research required to get the details right.

      Most books that we read are not masterpieces. And I’d say that more than a few masterpieces are dreadfully dull. But I think the good more than outweighs the bad in “The Infidel Stain.” But I hope M.J. Carter does a little better job at plot and character in “The Devil’s Feast” which I have on hold at the virtual library.

      In the meantime, I’m 68% (likely more like 78% or so) into Elsa Hart’s “The White Mirror.” I say more like 78% because the last book I read in this Libby app finished about about the 90% point or earlier. I don’t remember if that is because the remainder was notes or something else.

      So far this novel has been better than “Jade Dragon Mountain.” Sure, Li Du is still lacking much personality. But it’s a good story of a caravan getting snowed in on their way to some trading city deep in the mountains between China and Tibet. One could say the plotting of the mystery is straight out of Agatha Christie. You can imagine Li Du as Perot stuck in some island resort where a murder has occurred.

      In this case, the web of possible villains and motives is suitable obscure. But I would say so far the plot is presented realistically and with interest. It suits the setting where snow flurries obscure and obstruct nearly everything. It’s a cozy little enclave (a manor) that the caravan has stopped at. Their host is indeed quite hospitable. But something lurks under the surface. Someone must have killed the monk found on the bridge, made to look like some kind of religious suicide. And other events have occurred, other characters have revealed side-stories which should or should not be taken at face value.

      The only man above suspicion is Li Du’s traveling companion, Hamza, who is a gregarious and harmless storyteller and confidante of Li Du. He appeared as probably the best character in the previous novel, “Jade Dragon Mountain.” Presumably many of the stories he conveys in that novel are Chinese traditional stories. And he continues, to a lesser extent, to tell some of his stories in this one.

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