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Tibetan book of death - Author deftly places fascinating murder mystery in Tibet

January 22, 2008

The Free Lance-Star, VA

HERE'S AN IDEA. Suppose the Ti- betans, high in the Himalayas with their
prayer wheels and daemons, were blood kin to our own Navajos, with their
chants and sand paintings?

Author Eliot Pattison weaves this hypothesis, convincingly footnoted,
into a tautly constructed murder mystery, set in one of the remoter
reaches of modern Tibet. "Prayer of the Dragon" is kind of Tony
Hillerman meets National Geographic.

Our principal is one Shan Tao Yun, who was a Chinese government
investigator before he accused his superiors of corruption and was
consigned to a gulag in Tibet. While there, he became friends with some
Tibetan monks and eventually found refuge with them at their illegal
monastery. Now his friends have summoned him to a remote village to
solve a murder.

The cast of characters includes the village head man, closely tied to
the occupying Chinese; renegade miners, stripping the mountain of its
gold; Americans investigating the local pilgrim's trail; a loopy hermit;
and a retired Chinese scientist and his wannabe forensic scientist nephew.

This is a fascinating story, with layers upon layers. Pattison writes
convincingly of Tibetan culture and religion, Chinese-Tibetan politics,
Himalayan geography and Navajo religious beliefs, while giving his
characters believable personalities.

Lucia Anderson is a freelance writer living in Woodbridge.
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