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Eight Skilled Gentlemen Paperback – December 1, 1990

26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hughart's ( Bridge of Birds ) third novel is another gem, continuing the adventures of the aging sage Master Li and his youthful sidekick, Number Ten Ox, a delightful pair of ancient Chinese sleuths. When a respected mandarin is murdered by a ch'ih-mei , a vampire ghoul, in broad daylight, the Celestial Master, the most revered Taoist priest in the realm, gives his old friend Master Li the case. The Celestial Master himself, however, seems to be the main suspect after he reports the murder, which he claims was committed with a ball of fire by a man who was then transformed into a crane. Thus commences a wild adventure that takes Master Li and Number Ten Ox from the Forbidden City through backwoods villages and bandit-infested countryside to the sinister palace of Yen-men. There are ghosts, wizards, dog-brides, monsters, puppeteers, female shamans, magic birdcages and, of course, the Eight Skilled Gentlemen, mysterious hooded figures from the dawn of Chinese history who are in league with eight particularly nasty demon-deities. Superbly written and narrated in the humorously observant voice of Number Ten Ox, this is a book not to be missed.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-- That honorable and learned scholar, Master Li, is back, along with his right-hand guy, Number Ten Ox; and the two of them are once again investigating the ineffable mysteries of ancient China. No amount of description can possibly capture the resolutely calm hilarity of this mad careen through Chinese mythology disguised as a detective story. Suffice it to say that Master Li has chosen to become involved in a mysterious incident of mass hypnosis, which has resulted in the reported appearance of a vampire ghoul. The rest of the plot proceeds at a breakneck pace, with breathing room provided by Number Ten Ox's outrageous commentary on the not-so-picturesque aspects of life in ancient China and Master Li's alternately philosophic and bold-faced pronouncements. This is a mystery story for those who don't read mysteries, a fantasy novel for people who don't read fantasy, and a good time for anyone. Expect requests for Hughart's other Master Li books if you purchase this one. --Cathy Chauvette, Fairfax County Public Library
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Foundation/Doubleday; First Printing - First Thus edition (January 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385417101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385417105
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The following interview with Barry Hughart was conducted via mail during January-February, 2000. --J. Kuntz
JK: All fans of the Master Li books want to know why the series stopped after Eight Skilled Gentlemen. Can you explain?
BH: The Master Li books were a tightrope act and hard to write, but not, alas, very remunerative. Still, I would have continued as originally planned if I'd had a supportive publisher: seven novels ending with my heroes' deaths in the battle with the Great White Serpent, and their elevation to the Great River of Stars as minor deities guaranteed to cause the August Personage of Jade almost as much trouble as the Stone Monkey. Unfortunately I had St. Martins, which didn't even bother to send a postcard when I won the World Fantasy Award; Ballantine, which was dandy until my powerhouse editor dropped dead and her successors forgot my existence; and Doubleday, which released The Story of the Stone three months before the pub date, guaranteeing that not one copy would still be on the shelves when reviews came out, published the hardcover and the paperback of Eight Skilled Gentlemen simultaneously, and then informed me they would bring out further volumes in paperback only, meriting, of course, a considerably reduced advance.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Chang on May 5, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the last book released by Mr. Hughart. It was supposed to be the third in a series of seven, but due to compensation differences, he elected not to continue writing. It's a darn shame because his novels of a China that never was are truly wonderful. The third adventure of Master Li and Number Ten Ox involves murder, mayhem, and magic aplenty, with lots of Chinese literary references thrown in. Almost makes you believe you're reading history. This story is not quite up to the same standards as his first two, but it's a matter of interpretation. I love his work and I really wish he'd start writing again.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Marc Ruby™ HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 12, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have written about Barry Hughart before ('Bridge of Birds') and how much I enjoyed his mock Chinese, tongue-in-cheek writing. This is the third novel (and the last) in his series about Number Ten Ox and Master Li, detectives, trouble-shooters, and general mischief-makers. The middle volume, 'The Story of the Stone,' is not presently in print, although chances of finding it used are still good.
The two find themselves in attendance at the Peking execution day, where the current royal execution is going for a record 1,071 clean decapitations. At the very last moment, a vampire ghoul makes a daytime appearance in hot pursuit of the city guard. This causes the Devil's Hand to miss his stroke, and Master Li jumps at the opportunity to investigate. Finding that one of the vampire's victims appears to be an august resident of the Forbidden City, Master Li confronts the Celestial Master (the wisest Confucian in the realm) and is invited to investigate what appears to be an impossible series of events.
Befriending a roving puppeteer and his beautiful daughter, Master Li and Number Ten chase across China looking for clues in what appears to be a complex smuggling plot that uses magical, golden cages as telephones. However, the cages are more than etheric portables, and the present holders of them keep meeting horrible fates at the hands of weird monsters and an ape. Who these creatures are, the purpose of the cages, and what any of this has to do with the annual Death Birds Ghost Boat Rain Race are the mysteries that Master Li has to solve.
This is a plot that sends the reader careening across the pages like a pinball in a bumper factory. The sense of the tale is always just beyond the reader's grasp as Hughart unfolds Number Ten's narrative at high pace.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
I love all three Master Li and Number Ten Ox novels, but Eight Skilled Gentlemen is my personal favorite. This book is one to savor, from the hilarious opening chapter at a public execution to the thrilling race between the dragonboats. I join the thousands of Barry Hughart fans in *imploring* him to please publish another Master Li novel!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The third and final published tale of Master Li and his assistant, Number Ten Ox, is both funny and wistful. If the components of Hughart's ancient mythical China are by now familiar to readers, they are still wonderfully vivid. In this tale Master Li and Ox become entangled with high-society scams and the ghostly remnants of a shamanistic theology predating Chinese civilization. The book lacks the sheer creative majesty of Hughart's first book, the Bridge of Birds; but Birds is a virtuoso performance that can hardly be expected twice in a lifetime. Eight Skilled Gentlemen is, by comparison, merely an excellent story.
This is the third book in an intended series of seven, which most regrettably was not completed. As such, Eight Skilled Gentlemen was not intended as the final Master Li story, and we are left waiting for the next marvelous case. Hughart apparently intended to conclude the series in traditional Chinese mythological fashion, by deifying his truth-seeking protagonists. He never wrote that story, but the extraordinary Li Kao and Number Ten Ox have achieved a form of immortality just the same. They are just as vivid in the final book as in the first two, and I deeply regret not having the chance to invite them over for a jar of wine or two.
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