After Shan Tao Yun is forced to witness the execution of a Tibetan for corruption, he can’t shake the suspicion that he has instead witnessed a murder arranged by conspiring officials. When he learns that a Tibetan monk has been accused by the same officials of using Buddhist magic to murder soldiers then is abruptly given a badge as special deputy to the county governor, Inspector Shan realizes he is being thrust into a ruthless power struggle. Knowing he has made too many enemies in the government, Shan desperately wants to avoid such a battle, but then discovers that among its casualties are a murdered American archaeology student and devout Tibetans who were only trying to protect an ancient shrine.
Soon grasping that the underlying mysteries are rooted in both the Chinese and Tibetan worlds, Shan senses that he alone may be able to find the truth. The path he must take, with the enigmatic, vengeful father of the dead American at his side, is the most treacherous he has ever navigated. More will die before he is able to fully pierce the secrets of this clash between the angry gods of Tibet and Beijing. The costs to Shan and those close to him will be profoundly painful, and his world will be shaken to its core before he crafts his own uniquely Tibetan form of justice.
The corpse is missing its head and is dressed in American clothes. Found by a Tibetan prison work gang on a windy cliff, the grisly remains clearly belong to someone too important for Chinese authorities to bury and forget. So the case is handed to veteran police inspector Shan Tao Yun. Methodical, clever Shan is the best man for the job, but he too is a prisoner, deported to Tibet for offending someone high up in Beijing's power structure. Granted a temporary release, Shan is soon pulled into the Tibetan people's desperate fight for its sacred mountains and the Chinese regime's blood-soaked policies. Then, a Buddhist priest is arrested, a man Shan knows is innocent. Now time is running out for Shan to find the real killer.
The Skull Mantra is the winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
In an earlier time, Shan Tao Yun was an Inspector stationed in Beijing. But he lost his position, his family and his freedom when he ran afoul of a powerful figure high in the Chinese government. Released unofficially from the work camp to which he'd been sentenced, Shan has been living in remote mountains of Tibet with a group of outlawed Buddhist monks. Without status, official identity, or the freedom to return to his former home in Beijing, Shan has just begun to settle into his menial job as an inspector of irrigation and sewer ditches in a remote Tibetan township when he encounters a wrenching crime scene. Strewn across the grounds of an old Buddhist temple undergoing restoration are the bodies of two unidentified men and a Tibetan nun. Shan quickly realizes that the murders pose a riddle the Chinese police might in fact be trying to cover up. When he discovers that a nearby village has been converted into a new internment camp for Tibetan dissidents arrested in Beijing's latest pacification campaign, Shan recognizes the dangerous landscape he has entered. To find justice for the victims and to protect an American woman who witnessed the murders, Shan must navigate through the treacherous worlds of the internment camp, the local criminal gang, and the government's rabid pacification teams, while coping with his growing doubts about his own identity and role in Tibet.
The Tibetans are terrified, the notorious Public Security Bureau wants nothing to do with the murders, and the army seems determined to just bury the dead again and Shan with them. No one wants to pursue the truth–except Shan, who finds himself in a violent collision between a heartbreaking, clandestine effort to reunite refugees from Tibet separated for decades and a covert corruption investigation that reaches to the top levels of the government in Beijing, China. The terrible secret Shan uncovers changes his town and his life forever.