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Water Touching Stone (Inspector Shan Tao Yun) Hardcover – June 11, 2001

45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Given the critical and commercial success of Eliot Pattison's Edgar-winning debut novel, The Skull Mantra, which painstakingly limned contemporary Tibet's harsh beauty and defiant fatalism through the stoic perspective of Shan Tao Yun, a Chinese bureaucrat imprisoned in a Himalayan labor camp, it's no wonder the author's second novel returns to this hauntingly scarred country. But Water Touching Stone also widens the author's geographical and social scope. Shan must find a killer who is stalking orphan boys in the high mountains and deserts of the Xianjiang Autonomous Region.

Gendun, the senior lama at the monastery that has given Shan sanctuary, announces to his student, "'You are needed in the north. A woman named Lau has been killed. A teacher. And a lama is missing.'" Though reluctant to leave the gentle presence of the monks who are balm to his crippled soul, Shan realizes he has no choice:

Gendun had told him the one essential truth of the event; for the lamas everything else would be mere rumor. What they had meant was that this lama and the dead woman with a Chinese name were vital to them, and it was for Shan to discover the other truths surrounding the killing and translate them for the lamas' world.
It turns out that Lau had taken upon herself the care of the zheli, a group of orphaned children from all corners of Xianjiang, and strove to help the children retain a sense of native identity in the face of the Poverty Eradication Scheme, which is Beijing-speak for the destruction of the herding clans and the transformation of the western steppes into a region of exploitable resources. Shan wonders whether officials from the People's Brigade (perhaps the "Jade Bitch," Prosecutor Xu Li), or the feared secret police "knobs" from Public Security decided to put a stop to her subversive activities. But when the children from the zheli begin dying amid horrific tales of the "demon" that came for them, bleak politics must grapple with darker imaginings.

The novel sports a practically Dickensian cast of characters, which might overwhelm the narrative by sheer numbers, yet Pattison manages to add depth to even the most minor of characters, and at the moments when the troupe threatens to become completely unwieldy, he deftly redeems the situation with moments of quiet poetry:

On they went, three small men in the vastness of the changtang, the wind sweeping the grass in long waves around them, the snow-capped peaks shimmering in the brilliant light of dawn. As they appeared over a small knoll they surprised a herd of antelope, which fled across the long plain. Except one, a small animal with a broken horn, which stared as if it recognized them, then ran beside them, alone, until they reached the road.
--Kelly Flynn

From Publishers Weekly

Few mystery sequels have been awaited with as much anticipation as this one, and in many ways this is a worthy successor to Pattison's first novel, the Edgar- winning The Skull Mantra (1999); it too is full of reverence for the beleaguered people of Tibet, especially its tortured and imprisoned Buddhist monks. "I know that of all the world I have seen, the lamas are the best part of it," says Shan Tao Yun, a former high-ranking police investigator from Beijing who because he looked too deeply into some financial scandal was disgraced and imprisoned in a Tibetan gulag, where his life and his soul were saved by the monks who were his fellow prisoners. Released without official consent after his investigations into a murder exposed Chinese corruption, Shan has been living quietly among the monks, awaiting his chance to escape the country with the UN's help. Will he now risk his freedom to find out who killed a revered teacher and several wandering orphan boys? To Pattison's credit, he makes Shan's choice to roam across the wastes of northern Tibet in a virtually endless and dangerous search seem inevitable and totally believable even if some readers would rather see him in action on the streets of London or San Francisco. And Shan's companions are largely fascinating: a vast gallery of Kazakh resistance fighters, White Russian smugglers who ride camels along the old Silk Road and Chinese officials of varying degrees of nastiness. Finally, though, there are too many people, places, events and questions and pages to sustain the amazing energy of Pattison's initial creation. (June 2)Forecast: Given the critical success of The Skull Mantra, which is being released simultaneously in paperback, and continuing political controversy surrounding China, this book has real breakout potential.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Inspector Shan Tao Yun
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (June 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312206127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312206123
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,329,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eliot Pattison has been described as a "writer of faraway mysteries," a label which is particularly apt for someone whose travel and interests span such a broad spectrum. After reaching a million miles of global trekking, visiting every continent but Antarctica, Pattison stopped logging his miles and set his compass for the unknown. Today he avoids well-trodden paths whenever possible, in favor of wilderness, lesser known historical venues, and encounters with indigenous peoples.

An international lawyer by training, early in his career Pattison began writing on legal and business topics, producing several books and dozens of articles published on three continents. In the late 1990's he decided to combine his deep concerns for the people of Tibet with his interest in venturing into fiction by writing The Skull Mantra. Winning the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery--and listed as a finalist for best novel for the year in Dublin's prestigious IMPAC awards--The Skull Mantra launched the Inspector Shan series, which now includes Water Touching Stone, Bone Mountain, Beautiful Ghosts, The Prayer of the Dragon, Mandarin Gate, and the Soul of Fire. Both The Skull Mantra and Water Touching Stone were selected by for its annual list of ten best new mysteries. Water Touching Stone was selected by Booksense as the number one mystery of all time for readers' groups. Mandarin Gate was selected as one of the best mysteries of 2012 by Amazon, CNN and Publishers Weekly. The Inspector Shan series has been translated into over twenty languages around the world.

Pattison entered China for the first time within weeks of normalization of relations with the United States in 1980 and during his many return visits to China and neighboring countries developed the intense interest in the rich history and culture of the region that is reflected in these books. They have been characterized as creating a new "campaign thriller" genre for the way they weave significant social and political themes into their plots. Indeed, as soon as the novels were released they became popular black market items in China for the way they highlight issues long hidden by Beijing.

Pattison's longtime interest in another "faraway" place -the 18th century American wilderness and its woodland Indians-- led to the launch of his Bone Rattler series, which quickly won critical acclaim for its poignant presentation of Scottish outcasts and Indians during the upheaval of the French and Indian War. In Pattison's words, "this was an extraordinary time that bred the extraordinary people who gave birth to America," and the lessons offered by the human drama in that long-ago wilderness remain fresh and compelling today.

A former resident of Boston and Washington, Pattison resides on an 18th century farm in Pennsylvania with his wife, three children, and an ever-expanding menagerie of animals. For more information, visit:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John Rogers ClarkIV on June 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
After reading The Skull Mantra, I immediately began looking forward to reading Mr. Pattison's next book. As time passed, I became a bit worried he might not write another. After reading Water Touching Stone, I understand why there was such a long time between the two. This is definitely a thinking person's mystery, so much so that I will re-read it several months from now. Please, if you haven't read the Skull Mantra, read it before reading this book. There are too many connections between them. Shan returns again, the reluctant protagonist, called this time by the people who he has come to revere. The request: go find who is killing the children. There is a mind-boggling cast of characters that sometimes become difficult to keep straight, but none are no wasted. The mix of pain experienced by the different characters makes a striking contrast to both the beauty of the cultures and the author's description of the physical environment. Prosecutor Xu in particular comes across as terribly human in the final pages of this book. I must admit to wondering how the author could wrap this book up with any degree of neatness. He exceeded my expectations and left the perfect amount of ambiguity at the end. I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a well-crafted mystery that both entertains and challenges the reader.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By RuthAlice on July 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
After reading The Skull Mantra by Eliot Pattison, I hoped he would write another quickly. Well, it took him a while, but it was worth the wait. In Water Touching Stone he returns to Tibet and Shan, his intrepid detective who is now out of the gulag, though undocumented and at risk of arrest outside the county where he was freed by the grateful Chief Prosecutor in The Skull Mantra.
In Water Touching Stone, Pattison takes Shan not only out of the gulag, but out of Tibet into Xianjiang, the westernmost province of China, a territory filled with ethnic minorities who the government is assiduously working to assimilate. Reflecting the "new market economy" reforms that are much touted in the West as excuses to trade with China, government oppression is replaced by corporate oppression, as the corporate licensed in this province gives khazachs shares in exchange for their herds and reassigns them to work units that effectively disperse clans, completely the eradication of old cultures under the benign cover of corporate privatization. The struggle of the people to retain their ethnic heritage is the background to this fascinating mystery.
A teacher of minority orphans is murdered and her students are being picked off one by one, killed by a "demon" who is eating children. Shan is dispatched by the lamas to save the children and find the murderer. He is accompanied by two lamas from Tibet. All three face immediate arrest and dispatch to the gulag if they are discovered. Along the way, they are assisted by the many people who are resisting assimilation. Khazach, Uighur, Elousi and Tibetan find common ground in resisting assimilation.
The mystery is complex and fair. The characters are multi-dimensional and authentic.
Read more ›
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 11, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is truly a great book. The interesting setting and the unusual hero would be enough, but Pattison manages to take you on a ride through the current situation i Tibet, the mystique of the mountains and the wonderful people that live there. As the mystery unravels (slowly!), you actually feel the frustration of the hero, Chinese inspector Chan, as he has to battle with his loyalties and emotions.
The plot is satisfyingly complex, and requires both an attentive and reflecting reader if you are to keep on top of things. Pattison avoids the trap of delivering finished solutions and encourages the reader to think for himself - something that is quite uncommon for best-sellers these days.
The ending is both sad and beautiful and I actually felt my eyes become wet as I finished the book on the bus to work. When was the last time a paperback move you to tears? Keep up the good work, Pattison!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By G. D. Caliva on January 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is thoroughly satisfying on many different levels; a rare thing in todays, pump them out, formula novels. There is mystery and intrigue. A chinese teacher is killed. Her orphan students, 9 and 10 year olds, are being murdered. A tibetan lama asks our hero, Shan, the protagonist of `Skull Mantra`, to investigate. There is the harsh cruelty of the chinese political programs designed to eradicate etnic ties and cultures of the nomad tribes in Xinjiang as they have done so devastatingly in Tibet. There is political intrigue between various factions in the governing bodies of the area. There are grand vistas with the stark beauty of the desert, the magnificent mountains and, last but definately not least, the sensitivity and gentleness of Tibetan buddhism which so touched Shans spirit and seeped into ours as well.
I did not find the cast of characters hard to follow. They were developed well enough to add to the rich texture of this book.
This is such a wonderful read that I would like to buy this book for each one of you. I very highly recommend it.
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