Bone Mountain by Eliot Pattison: A review

Bone Mountain is the third in Eliot Pattison's interesting series of thrillers/mysteries revolving about the central character of Shan, a former police inspector in Beijing who spent years in a Chinese prison because he refused to turn a blind eye to corruption in high places. Finding himself exiled to a work camp in Tibet which was otherwise peopled by Tibetan monks and lamas, he learned much from his fellow inmates and, when a Chinese official arranged for his unofficial release from prison, he made his way to those monks and lamas on the outside and cast his lot with them.

In the first two books in this series, I felt rather lost in the narrative. It was only with this entry that I began to feel that I could follow what the writer was trying to do, as I began to understand a bit more of the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. 

At one point in the narrative, Lokesh, Shan's Tibetan lama friend and traveling companion, says that Tibetans like to walk for it keeps them connected to the earth and gives them time to contemplate. I am a gardener so I understand about connection to the earth and contemplation. Perhaps I have more in common with the Tibetan Buddhists than I realized. 

The central story here is of Shan's guarding of a sacred relic which had been stolen from a village and has now been recovered and is being returned. He travels with a salt caravan which has secreted the relic and is carrying it back to its village. But then, on the journey, the relic mysteriously disappears and Shan must solve the mystery of that disappearance and recover the relic once again. 

As with all of these stories, Shan's journey in search of the relic becomes a journey in search of enlightenment as he seeks his inner deity, even when he doesn't realize that is what he is seeking. Along the way, he picks up a mixed group of companions ranging from patriotic Tibetans trying to save their culture from the Chinese to an American diplomat seeking the body of a young geologist who has allegedly fallen to her death in the mountains. 

Readers with a stubbornly Western logical bent of mind will find it helpful to suspend their disbelief as they travel through the rugged Tibetan hills and valleys to finally reach Bone Mountain and the centuries-old cave of the "medicine lamas." Along the way, we find that several of the characters are in need of redemption, even if they don't realize it at first, and, in the end, most of them find it, even a cold and cruel Chinese colonel who seems the least likely to be touched by the Tibetan philosophy.

This is a complex story that meanders along at a very slow pace. An unnecessarily slow pace, I think. The plotting is really incremental and repetitive. I know the Tibetan way of life is spiritual and contemplative, but I don't think the telling of it has to be quite so turgid. 

Moreover, Pattison has his favorite adverbs that he uses over and over and over again. The person who said that the road to hell is paved with adverbs had a point. For example, things always seem to happen "suddenly" in Pattison's telling. People and animals appear suddenly. A character understands things suddenly. Mountains break apart and rivers appear suddenly. Little things like that just drive me mad!

This is a promising series about a fascinating culture. This book, however, was too long and too repetitive. I think it could have been made a lot better by a more ruthless editor.


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