The White Mirror

Suggested by Brad Nelson • Li Du, an imperial librarian and former exile in 18th century China, is with a trade caravan when a detour brings them to a valley hidden between mountain passes. On the icy planks of a wooden bridge, a monk sits in contemplation. Closer inspection reveals that the monk is dead.
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17 Responses to The White Mirror

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This book is the follow-up to Jade Dragon Mountain, also reviewed here.

    Although the mystery is Agatha-Christie style — that is, impenetrable with layer upon layer of suspects and hidden identities or motives — it is well paced.

    And as a piece of historical fiction, it does immerse you in the surroundings. A snow storm hits a little early in the season and the caravan, which includes Li Du, must make its way to shelter. There is a manor owned by a most hospitable man who is kind to all travelers. But the travelers themselves are a mixed bunch with a mixed set of life stories and motivations.

    Again, it seems to be an Agatha-Christie style mystery wherein there is no chance to figure the mysterious out yourself. But in this case the way Li Du goes about the investigation, he is mostly clueless as well. And he does feed you some information as you go, but the reader always has the knowledge that he is withholding something,.

    In this case, the mystery works well. Although almost all of the book takes place in and around the rustic mountain manor, the method of the writing immerses you in the story and the surroundings. It adds to the realism to have the setting for the story stranded in the valley along with the rest of the travelers.

    Above the manor is a Buddhist temple adding to the exotic feeling of the locale. And the religion of the region features prominently in the plot.

    This book may not be for everyone for it facilitates a more contemplative orientation to the story. I like bold action adventures as well where the protagonist is jumping off ledges onto trains and hitting the bad guys with a full fist. This book isn’t one of them. But I think it does its style very well.

    You should certainly read “Jade Dragon Mountain” first if you intend to read this one so that you have some back story. The story in “The White Mirror” is left in such a way that there could be further adventures for Li Du. If Elsa Hart writes another in the series, I will read it. This latest book lists a publishing date of September, 2106, so that could come to pass.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I wonder if anyone can compare these to the Judge Dee novels. I haven’t read those either, but I think Elizabeth has at least read some of them. She might be interested in these, though something using Japanese history would probably be even better.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I don’t think I had heard of the Judge Dee novels. I enjoyed the 3 or 4 Charlie Chan novels that I read. This could be right up my alley.

      Amazon offers a selection of the novels in Kindle format including #7 in the series, The Haunted Monastery and #3, The Lacquer Screen. I’ve downloaded a free Kindle sample of the latter as a reminder to take a look at a later time.

      The book I just started reading (and I do mean “just”…I’ve read only a few notes from the author at the beginning, including his disclaimer) is Mangrove Lightning. I’ll let you know if this is any good. It’s about an ongoing character named Doc Ford.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I had a funny experience last night. The Libby library app makes it easy to browse through books, especially by category. Most of the books you find via the app are already checked out by someone else so I’m looking through only the ones available.

    I found four good prospects and by the time I had read three pages I could tell the writing was either subpar or the subject matter was just not for me. They say you can’t tell a book by a cover, and that’s true. But it’s funny how you can gauge the writing by a few pages.

    Does this ability to relatively easily discriminate have to do with refined tastes? Sure it does. Many of these books clearly were in English, and communicated ideas, but that’s about where the resemblance to literature ended. It has become as easy to tell the difference between good writing and bad writing as easy as it is to tell the difference between Lady Gaga and Sinatra. You don’t have to listen to an entire song to figure that out.

    But I did finally find a book that piqued my interest, and it’s one that Mr. Kung could well be interested in: Shinju by Laura Joh Rowland. Okay, another chick flick, but the writing style is good and the historical aspects are phenomenal. And it only took a couple pages to see that this was serious — and interesting — writing.

    It’s set in Japan. Newly appointed yoriki (a police high official), Sano Ichiro, is ordered to go through the motions in regards to a couple young people found drowned together. It is assumed to be an act of shinju wherein couples who are forbidden (because of class or family) to marry kill themselves in order to spent a Buddhist eternity together.

    The woman is high-born and her death is to be hushed up and whitewashed in order to protect the family name. The man is low-born and his body is to be exhibited as a form of punishment of his low-born family. Unlike all the other yorikis in the city, Ichiro was appointed to his post as a family favor instead of inheriting it as all the others. He’s an outsider. And his background is as a researcher and librarian. The methods of obedience-over-facts-or-justice is a bit foreign to him. He’s having a hard time adapting to being just a rubber stamp. He wants to learn the truth, including of this crime.

    And that’s about where I left it. Ichiro visits the body in the morgue which is inside a very disgusting prison. He meets a fellow traveler who also has a penchant for forbidden knowledge. According to an Amazon reviewer, the author is mixing in Japanese Tokugawa-era history (1600s-1700s).

    Ichiro is of the samurai class. Like many others, to even be near the dead, let alone touch them, is considered a bad thing. This book is clearly an insight into the custom and norms of feudal Japan. This book is the first in a multi-book series (at least 15), so if I like this one I’ve got some steady reading material for the winter. I’ll let you know if the first book holds up.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Shinju looks like a book which I will have to read. I will check if our library has a copy. Thanks.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This might also be of interest to Elizabeth and me. I’ve read a lot of historical mysteries, but generally set within Western civilization.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It looks like you’ll get a schooling in early medical knowledge and techniques. All outside scientific ideas are forbidden. Ichiro has found a sort of medical examiner who works in the shadows in the prison morgue. It’s sort of an enforced exile but they no longer watch him or care about him. This guy has a set of smuggled Dutch medical tools. He just did an autopsy on the man in the supposed double suicide. Would you believe it? It would appear he did not drown.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I started reading this book last night and agree that it is better than “Jade Dragon Mountain.” After about 50 pages, I don’t want to put it down, rather I want to continue reading to find out what this is all about.

    What a welcome change from that rubbish, “The Ripper’s Shadow” by Laura Joh Rowland.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      There is a brand of murder mystery called a “cozy mystery.” Sort of a Cabot Cove sort of thing. Grandmas and knitting needles solving a crime in parallel (and often against) the police. Etc.

      This isn’t a cozy mystery, but I did find it somewhat meditative and immersive. You’re taken along the snow drifts and treacherous mountain paths and become snowed in like the rest of them.

      And I’m done with the C.S. Harris novels. Yikes. Better than “The Ripper’s Shadow” from the sound of it, but I’ll never touch another one.

      What I’ve picked up at the moment at the virtual library is “The Blackthorn Key.” Reviews on it are good at Amazon but you can’t really trust their book reviews to do anything more than to point out a real dog.

      Still, so far so good. It’s a look inside an apothecary set in the 1600s. Did you know it was common (even expected) to beat your apprentice at any opportunity? Fortunately the protagonist yute in this one has a more enlightened master. Still, his duties are hard. And the very profession can be a risky business…quite apart from having someone going about the country killing owners of apothecaries.

      Lots of interesting little details so far. I’ll let you know if this hold together. But never again a Devil&Hero book. I just had some kind of allergic reaction come on.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The most noted writers of cozies, of course, were Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. I suppose the domestic mysteries of many women today (such as Carolyn Hart, Dianne Mott Davidson, and Jill Churchill, to cite three that I’ve frequently read) would be considered cozies as well. American private-eye mysteries can be considered the opposite of cozies.

        The noted writers of cozies generally set their stories in contemporary (to them) times, though Churchill’s Grace and Favor mysteries are set in a small town in New York during the Great Depression.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I’d never even heard of the “cozy” category until I signed up with BookBub which will email you a list of low-cost books. I haven’t read any of them yet. The list of books is large and always coming. The descriptions are fair. The prices are good. And I’m deluged with emails. I may sign out of that one but so far I’m letting it roll. I did purchase one or two for $1.99 in hopes of reading it in the future. Haven’t quite got there yet.

          But I digress. What I noticed is that they categorized the books, and one of the categories was “cozy mystery” and that was a fairly predominant category.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I finished “The White Mirror” and agree with you that it is a much better book than “Jade Dragon Mountain.”

    The crime is more believable and the author has cut back on the Hercule Poirot bit.

    There is now a clear path for Li Du and it will end in the Forbidden City. Where he stops before arriving there, only the author knows. Or maybe she doesn’t yet have a clear idea.

    I have only two complaints about the book.

    1. The Westerner in the book is crazy. In “Jade Dragon Mountain” the one Westerner was a villain and the other was murdered at the beginning. Maybe a fairly normal Western will appear in her next book.

    2. It is very unlikely that so many different mysterious important types would end up in the secluded valley at the same time.

    Nevertheless, I look forward to Hart’s next book.

    By the way, I sometimes have the feeling that Hamza is a jinn.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mr. Kung. I felt that my reputation, such as it is, was somewhat on the line. There’s no question that I liked the book, but then I could see how it might not be for everybody.

      Yes, I think the Li Du’s road does lead to the Forbidden City. If Elsa Hart is still writing, I hope she brings him home…with perhaps a stop or two in between.

      Hamza could indeed be not entirely of this world. He’s a character that I like. He’s got personality and it doesn’t seemed forced. He’s in marked contrast to Li Du who seems to have no recognizable personality at all.

      The crime is more believable indeed — even though, as you mentioned, the intersection of so many coincidental mysterious persons strains believability.

      There was something I liked about the host family. In the midst of all that, they were an extremely civilized bunch…but more than ready to defend themselves with deadly force. They exemplified “the kindness of strangers” as well as showed their resourcefulness to live where they did. And it showed how important having family bonds is. They also made the place feel like a real place. And that’s what I think was the magic of this story. You were immersed in a place with definite and believable characteristics. This novel did not depend upon a chain of cliches.

      And one day maybe a worthy Westerner will join the bunch.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Good news on the Elsa Hart front. The third story of Li Du will be out August 21: City of Ink. I’ll definitely at least be getting the free Kindle sample…and then likely purchasing it.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Just FYI, the third book in Elsa Hart’s Li Du series is no available: City of Ink. The early reviews on it are good but you just never know. I purchased this last night so that I could put it in the to-be-read queue.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Mr. Kung said elsewhere today:

    Nothing lasts forever, but nowadays, the speed at which things slide is incredibly fast.

    I’m 23% into the third book of the Li Du series: City of Ink. You can read some comments on the second book here (which I thought was excellent, grading on the learning curve of the modern). This first book, Jade Dragon Mountain, was also pretty good….certainly well worth reading.

    This third book so far has nothing to commend it. They are just words on a page, although certainly literate words. This third book reminds me of the nothing from the movie, The NeverEnding Story. The Nothing started as a small black hole that opened up in this fictional world and then started spreading, sucking everything into it and replacing what once was with a black nothing.

    There’s nothing in Elsa Hart’s writing style, per se, that is lacking compared to the other books. She can string a sentence together and paint a clear picture. But there’s as yet no reason to read this. There’s no artistry to it. No humor. No pathos. No happy. No sad. There’s no heart or soul to it. (Me, a man, saying this to a chick author…ironic, isn’t it.) It’s just one paragraph following another telling a story that is bland. The Nothing has entered her work and is sucking all the life out of it.

    I suspect this will get better. But I am 23% into it. That’s more than enough time for getting the setup out of the way. I’ll report back when I’m at least halfway into it.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I laughed when I read your “The Nothing” analogy. I like it. I think I will use it when describing the sucking void which leftist have within themselves, which is the impetus for their wanting everyone else to suffer. Misery loves company again.

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