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Following the enthralling 18th century Chinese mysteries Jade Dragon Mountain and White Mirror, comes the next Li Du adventure in City of Ink. Li Du was prepared to travel anywhere in the world except for one place: home. But to unravel the mystery that surrounds his mentor’s execution, that’s exactly where he must go. Plunged into the painful memories and teeming streets of Following the enthralling 18th century Chinese mysteries Jade Dragon Mountain and White Mirror, comes the next Li Du adventure in City of Ink. Li Du was prepared to travel anywhere in the world except for one place: home. But to unravel the mystery that surrounds his mentor’s execution, that’s exactly where he must go. Plunged into the painful memories and teeming streets of Beijing, Li Du obtains a humble clerkship that offers anonymity and access to the records he needs. He is beginning to make progress when his search for answers buried in the past is interrupted by murder in the present. The wife of a local factory owner is found dead, along with a man who appears to have been her lover, and the most likely suspect is the husband. But what Li Du’s superiors at the North Borough Office are willing to accept as a crime of passion strikes Li Du as something more calculated. As past and present intertwine, Li Du’s investigations reveal that many of Beijing’s residents ― foreign and Chinese, artisan and official, scholar and soldier ― have secrets they would kill to protect. When the threats begin, Li Du must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to discover the truth in a city bent on concealing it, a city where the stroke of a brush on paper can alter the past, change the future, prolong a life, or end one.


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Following the enthralling 18th century Chinese mysteries Jade Dragon Mountain and White Mirror, comes the next Li Du adventure in City of Ink. Li Du was prepared to travel anywhere in the world except for one place: home. But to unravel the mystery that surrounds his mentor’s execution, that’s exactly where he must go. Plunged into the painful memories and teeming streets of Following the enthralling 18th century Chinese mysteries Jade Dragon Mountain and White Mirror, comes the next Li Du adventure in City of Ink. Li Du was prepared to travel anywhere in the world except for one place: home. But to unravel the mystery that surrounds his mentor’s execution, that’s exactly where he must go. Plunged into the painful memories and teeming streets of Beijing, Li Du obtains a humble clerkship that offers anonymity and access to the records he needs. He is beginning to make progress when his search for answers buried in the past is interrupted by murder in the present. The wife of a local factory owner is found dead, along with a man who appears to have been her lover, and the most likely suspect is the husband. But what Li Du’s superiors at the North Borough Office are willing to accept as a crime of passion strikes Li Du as something more calculated. As past and present intertwine, Li Du’s investigations reveal that many of Beijing’s residents ― foreign and Chinese, artisan and official, scholar and soldier ― have secrets they would kill to protect. When the threats begin, Li Du must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to discover the truth in a city bent on concealing it, a city where the stroke of a brush on paper can alter the past, change the future, prolong a life, or end one.

30 review for City of Ink

  1. 4 out of 5

    Fran

    Li Du, imperial librarian, has returned to Beijing having been pardoned from exile by the Emperor. His exile was a result of his friendship with mentor, Shu. Shu had been implicated in a plot to overthrow the Emperor in 18th Century China. Li Du, instead of seeking a lofty position upon his return, accepted employment as a clerk, assistant to Chief Inspector Sun. His duties included composing letters, reports and speeches required by the North Borough office located in Beijing's Outer City. A hu Li Du, imperial librarian, has returned to Beijing having been pardoned from exile by the Emperor. His exile was a result of his friendship with mentor, Shu. Shu had been implicated in a plot to overthrow the Emperor in 18th Century China. Li Du, instead of seeking a lofty position upon his return, accepted employment as a clerk, assistant to Chief Inspector Sun. His duties included composing letters, reports and speeches required by the North Borough office located in Beijing's Outer City. A humble job, anonymous in nature, would provide a smoke screen as Li Du investigated why, seemingly innocent Shu took the fall for a crime he likely did not commit. The North Borough office investigated petty crimes. Violent crime was unusual in Beijing since the populace was forbidden to carry weapons. Chief Inspector Sun and Li Du were called to the Black Tile Factory, the scene of an unspeakable crime. Shock waves traveled through the city. Hong Wenbin, owner of the Black Tile Factory had hosted a literary bash at his home. "The Bitter Plum" was chosen for book discussion with invited guests. Pan Yongfa, manager of construction, returned to the Black Tile Factory indicating he was in the midst of a military audit. The next morning, Pan and Madame Hong, wife of the factory owner, were found dead at the factory. Upon scrutiny, Li Du found a crumpled paper containing a quote from the novel "The Bitter Plum". Were Pan and Madame Hong lovers? Was this a crime of passion? The atmosphere in Beijing was unsettling. Six thousand candidates had come to compete for two hundred fifty guaranteed official jobs. The brutal exams were divided into three sessions. Each session would takes three days. No one was allowed in or out of the examination yard once the exams began. No medical help. No replacement of writing materials. Could examiners be bribed? The upcoming "new" officials would be the next generation of "movers and shakers" arguably influencing government policy. When Li Du needed assistance he could always depend on friend Hamza, a storyteller, fluent in many languages learned from travelling trade routes. Hamza could provide lengthy distractions by weaving multi-faceted tales. He was a colorful presence. With infinite choices of reading material, this reader does not choose to read book series. That said, author Elsa Hart's books "Jade Dragon Mountain", "White Mirror", and "City of Ink" are the exception. These richly developed adventures provide a window into 18th century Imperial China by the extremely well versed Elsa Hart. Thank you Ariana at Minotaur Books for an advance copy of "City of Ink" in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    HBalikov

    In Elsa Hart’s City of Ink, we renew our acquaintance with Li Du, the scholar and former Imperial librarian who, having saved the life of the Emperor, has been allowed back to China’s capitol. That was covered in Jade Dragon Mountain. Thanks to the generosity of Net Galley, I now have the opportunity to provide an advanced and honest review of this book. To be brief: This book is superior to Jade Dragon Mountain and I enjoyed that book very much. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... In the US In Elsa Hart’s City of Ink, we renew our acquaintance with Li Du, the scholar and former Imperial librarian who, having saved the life of the Emperor, has been allowed back to China’s capitol. That was covered in Jade Dragon Mountain. Thanks to the generosity of Net Galley, I now have the opportunity to provide an advanced and honest review of this book. To be brief: This book is superior to Jade Dragon Mountain and I enjoyed that book very much. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... In the USA, we ask (in court) for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Only some of that applies in the China of three hundred years ago, where this story is set. Yet, unlike the adventures of most of the investigators I have read, Li Du pursues the whole truth whether or not the results will hurt or condemn him. Two things are the ostensible focus of this story: There is an important examination taking place in a few days. Those few who pass it are guaranteed the start of a successful government career. “The examination yard was forbidden to candidates. Until the morning the examination began, they could only look at the walls surrounding it. When did they finally enter, they would be locked inside for three days, confined to one of six thousand wooden cells. The cells were roofless, exposed to the scrutiny of guards from watchtowers and examiners from the sheltered comfort of elevated pavilions.” The second focus is a double murder in a factory that could be considered justifiable homicide depending on who committed the crime. “My advice to you, as your employer and your friend, is to continue writing the report you have been given permission to write. You have shown an aptitude for uncovering truth. Use it, and hope, as I do, that it leads to further revelations. But do not go too far, because if you do, I am not certain I will be able to save you.” We experience everything along with Li Du and learn more about his background and why he is satisfied now to be the lowly assistant to a minor bureaucrat in a marginal part of Beijing where the government attempts to regulate every citizen’s behavior and every neighborhood has its own gates that lock in all citizens each night. The title of this book, City of Ink, has multiple meanings of which you do not want me to spoil your pleasure in discovering. I will only say that up to this current century a government bureaucracy runs on ink. And, we learn that a candidate in his examination can fail for his calligraphy or because his ink isn’t sufficient as easily as he can for deficient knowledge. Some of my GR friends like their mysteries linear and plot-dominated. Some are more like me and will trade some of that impatience of resolving the mystery for some well-crafted descriptions. I am not Chinese; I do not live in the 18th Century; I have never been to China. But the words written by Elsa Hart are so beautiful in their capacity to convey time and place. Here are some that I feel compelled to share. “All good ink stones are hard enough to grind the ink to a fine consistency, yet smooth enough not to damage your brush, he had said. But it is a rare stone that grinds ink without making a sound. Do you know how it does it? Shu had paused for the anticipation of his listeners to reach its full strength. It does it by convincing the ink stick to be friends with the water, so that they agree to mix without arguing. You don’t want an argument on your desk when you are trying to compose a poem! And Shu had chuckled to himself at the image of the embattled writing materials.” “Chaoyang Gate was routinely crowded with merchants and tax officials coming and going from Tongzhou, the northern shipping terminus of the Grand Canal. This afternoon was no exception. Mules waited passively as laden baskets were adjusted on their backs, their sides twitching in response to biting flies. Horses stood proudly beside armed Bannermen radiating confidence in their sturdy travel attire. Vendors with streaks of charcoal on their cheeks stoked fires while customers shouted orders. The muddy ground was sprinkled with spilled grain and imprinted by boots, hooves, and cart wheels. Barrels and boxes teetered in crooked stacks, through which inspectors slowly circulated, paper and stylus in hand, making notes and issuing receipts. As the sun sank and the hour of the dog approached, guards prepared to close the gates and set the watch.” “In a city that preferred its citizens to have officially sanctioned reasons to be wherever they were, there were limited places to linger while waiting to meet a friend. Parks were, for the most part, accessible only by imperial invitation. Libraries were privately owned. There were no public squares.” “Beneath them, carefully folded, were two robes. The first was of blue silk, a rich, deep blue that slid through his fingers like a piece cut from the night sky. The second was an undercoat with a wide, embroidered hem depicting two dragons stretching their claws toward a pearl suspended between them. Beneath the robes were a pair of black silk boots with white soles, and a hat of black and red, topped with a small golden sphere. He dressed quickly. After nine years, the robes hung a little looser on him than they had before…” "They walked in silence through the vast hidden city within the city. At first they stayed in the center, where bridges crossed inner moats and streams, their white balustrades doubled in blurred reflections on the water. The rooftops of the great halls were a variable yellow as clouds altered the light striking them, shifting their color from coins to wheat to lion’s fur. Below the tiles, painted latticework dripped like liquid gold through emerald and sapphire clouds." “For the entirety of their exchange, Li Du had heard only their voices, and the silence in the library. Now, small sounds returned. He heard, faintly, a breeze rustle the dry stalks of lotuses in a nearby pond, a bird’s trill, a distant bell.” “The paper exuded a gentle fragrance of angelica root.” “When I heard you had accepted a humble position in the Outer City, I was disappointed, and did not think of you again. I see now that your choice was strategic. You wanted to remain inconspicuous. But from such a lowly vantage point, how did you arrive at this version of events you claim is the truth?”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Truth can never be told in the darkest of ink on a hollow page. City of Ink is set in the winding streets of 18th Century Beijing with secrets set, one upon another, like the kilned tiles on ancient roof tops. Patterns seem to be set rigidly with the honorable encased amid the dishonorable. Lives can be shattered with a mere glance in the wrong direction. Li Du knows this only too well. With scandal and isolation in his backdrop, Li Du enters into the anonymity of an ancient city teeming with indi Truth can never be told in the darkest of ink on a hollow page. City of Ink is set in the winding streets of 18th Century Beijing with secrets set, one upon another, like the kilned tiles on ancient roof tops. Patterns seem to be set rigidly with the honorable encased amid the dishonorable. Lives can be shattered with a mere glance in the wrong direction. Li Du knows this only too well. With scandal and isolation in his backdrop, Li Du enters into the anonymity of an ancient city teeming with individuals clawing for an existence in which your own name may weigh heavily against you. The once renowned scholar, previously at the beck and call of the Emperor, has now settled for a lowly clerkship. But this clerkship allows Li Du access to records that may clear the answers of the past. With eyes aching and a body weary from such a cramped position, Li Du is alerted to a horrendous situation at a local tile factory just minutes away. The body of the factory owner's beautiful wife, dressed in the finest of tailored silk, is found on the floor covered in blood. Near her outstretched body is that of a man presumed to be her lover. A letter rests between them inked with a loving line from Chinese poetry. All eyes turn to her drunken husband who may have killed the lovers while discovering them in a rage. Chinese law protects husbands as rightful in these cases. Inspector Sun confers with Li Du to write the case as closed. Li Du feels otherwise. Something tells him that there is far more at hand here than what meets the eye. It is Li Du's persistence that will unravel these silken threads. Elsa Hart presents a top-notch novel with impeccable writing and intense research into Asian culture. Although the third in the Li Du Novels, City of Ink can most certainly be read as a standalone. Hidden character foibles and a twisting and turning storyline have always been an artform for Elsa Hart. If you've not had the opportunity to read her other novels, you may want to seek her out. Who knew that such intrigue and mysterious lifestyles from the 18th Century could carry over into modern day views? I received a copy of City of Ink through Goodreads Giveaways. My thanks to Minotaur Books and to the talented Elsa Hart for the opportunity.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    This series reminds me of the writings of Pearl S. Buck, in which the history of China is woven into the plot and narrative, leaving the reader enriched after closing the book. In the case of Els Hart's writing, a murder-mystery with a librarian as the sleuth, is plotted in which the reader is invited to share the life and memories of Li Du in his quest to solve an old case, which many years ago had him banned from the Emperor's court and left his best friend dead. But as fate would have it, a do This series reminds me of the writings of Pearl S. Buck, in which the history of China is woven into the plot and narrative, leaving the reader enriched after closing the book. In the case of Els Hart's writing, a murder-mystery with a librarian as the sleuth, is plotted in which the reader is invited to share the life and memories of Li Du in his quest to solve an old case, which many years ago had him banned from the Emperor's court and left his best friend dead. But as fate would have it, a double murder in a tile factory leads to another present investigation he did not contemplate, yet unexpectedly and finally solved the mystery in the Emperor's library so long ago. The novel is filled with Chinese folklore, history, and cultural events while the drama enfolds around Li Du, his friends and colleagues. Apart from all the tunnels winding through the closed-in cities and the over-populated streets, there is also the maze of intrigue heading towards the final denouement. The story is richly textured, but without the gut and gore of brutal realism. A gentle, intriguing, fascinating account of a Beijing community in the eighteen hundreds. An excellent historical fictional account of life in China. A wonderful read. I want to thank Minotaur Books and Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book. Expected publishing date August 2018.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ingrid

    By now I know that when I pick up a book written by Elsa Hart about the librarian Li Du I'm in for a treat. I walked with him through the City of Ink, I saw (and smelled) the markets where all kinds of goods were on offer. He showed me the court yards, took me with him into the town houses and introduced me to his friends. Fortunately I could share his adventure without leaving my comfortable reading chair. Thoroughly enjoyable!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Li Du and Hazma are truly intriguing personalities. When they are in duo over any length of time you grasp a certain way of looking at their world (individually) in such a nearly opposite perception from each other, and yet they seem to thrive on the differences of "eyes" and intellectual interpretation for their "eyes" when they speak/ mesh in conversations, as well. That's 5 star and so is Lady Chen. I sure hope she gets involved in more than just the manipulations somewhere in future books fo Li Du and Hazma are truly intriguing personalities. When they are in duo over any length of time you grasp a certain way of looking at their world (individually) in such a nearly opposite perception from each other, and yet they seem to thrive on the differences of "eyes" and intellectual interpretation for their "eyes" when they speak/ mesh in conversations, as well. That's 5 star and so is Lady Chen. I sure hope she gets involved in more than just the manipulations somewhere in future books for this series! This was a full 3.5 star, and yet I just can't round it up. The case and tendrils of inquiry themselves went into so many directions within both the Inner and Outer city districts, that there was a period of nearly 100 pages bridging the middle that became stylish and Chinese culture integral but also was rather just a tedious kind of "he said, and then I saw" lengths. Li Du relationship and job type/ abode too under Sun doesn't ring well with me. It's too mild in comparison to his "traveling" days in exile. Everything that had to do with restoring and honoring his mentor's memory and grandchildren teaching- that line of interest, it was superlative- and a full 4 star. I wished more of the copy was enthralled within that justification for restoring reputation and honor than in the dual and then triple murder inquiry agenda that took up much of the page count. It's good. Not as good as #2, but I'll be reading them all. She can do shades of minutia and value for this period in China that is wonderful writing in itself. She's very good at color descriptions. And facial features too, how they can change with light and mood. Both. This took me longer to read than most books in any mystery or period mystery genre. Especially within series work when I have read several by that author before. It actually brought to mind, D. Leon's Brunetti. It's rather deceiving in both series- the "ease" of the reading. There's so much emotional and cognitive nuance! Little tics matter in both series. Body language, attire, etc. - all truly more important to meaning than in our own Western modern civilization culture. Another thing I loved about this book was the descriptions of how that city is set in mazes of gated areas in concentric manners and devious passages. And how at an exact hour all those dozens of gates are closed or opened. And how every single citizen of millions or 100,000's in number on any given day are "known" where they shelter or sleep. And how movement is thus so restricted for choices. And how nearly any person of any economic condition is wary of questioning a soldier to get them through a gate "late" or "emergency" because or for any reason at all. And how many soldiers for just that gate keeper "job" entails!! Employment indeed. And how timely is the crux of the deceptions within a corrupt governmental bureaucracy that sets pivotal future cabals to influence or set paths (or traps too) for the future or "next" authority. What top / down controls! And how corruption can then flourish within every level of that boss "pleasing aspect" or better association "practice" as well. Scary indeed. And the more things change, they more they remain the same. Another aspect I don't like about Li Du within the city controls as in comparison to the former books, is that so few women have any conversational additions at all within this scenario. Inputs or copy- they are merely tidbits in comparison to all the men "players" within this Chinese Emperor's city world. With examinations being eminent and they are all male too! And I can say I'm on the exact same page with Lady Chen on the practice of embroidery in general. Forgot to note and added later: I anticipate some enjoyable Li Du novels in the future because (and this is no spoiler alert)- this ending for #3 leaves upmost intriguing possibility for the scope of Li Du's next paths and also influences/ associations.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shomeret

    The publisher approved me for City of Ink on Net Galley because I had reviewed the first novel of the Li Du mystery series, Jade Dragon Mountain. When I received this third novel, I realized that I should have gotten seven lashes with a wet Chinese noodle for neglecting to read the second book in the series, The White Mirror. Last month I corrected that shortcoming and reviewed Li Du #2. My honest review of City of Ink is below. I believe that Li Du's effort to vindicate his dead mentor could ha The publisher approved me for City of Ink on Net Galley because I had reviewed the first novel of the Li Du mystery series, Jade Dragon Mountain. When I received this third novel, I realized that I should have gotten seven lashes with a wet Chinese noodle for neglecting to read the second book in the series, The White Mirror. Last month I corrected that shortcoming and reviewed Li Du #2. My honest review of City of Ink is below. I believe that Li Du's effort to vindicate his dead mentor could have made a compelling short story. It was certainly the strongest aspect of City of Ink, and provided a powerful ending to the novel. Unfortunately, a great deal of narrative space was taken up with an investigation that didn't interest me nearly as much as the drama of Li Du's personal crusade to clear Shu. It was a classic mystery with the requisite plot twist, but after the extraordinary goings on in Tibet during The White Mirror I expected more. I admit to having been disappointed by the mystery aspect of City of Ink, but I am optimistic about the possibilities that could develop in upcoming novels. For the blog version of my review see http://shomeretmasked.blogspot.com/20...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan Johnson

    4.5 stars This is the third book in the Li Du, Imperial Chinese Librarian, series and the best by far. This is a complex mystery with interesting characters and full of historical information about the 18th century Beijing. It is a satisfying read on many levels. Li Du has returned from his exile and is working as a low level clerk in the North Borough Office which gives him access to records he needs to clear the name of his mentor, Shu. Shu had been executed for a plot against the Emperor that 4.5 stars This is the third book in the Li Du, Imperial Chinese Librarian, series and the best by far. This is a complex mystery with interesting characters and full of historical information about the 18th century Beijing. It is a satisfying read on many levels. Li Du has returned from his exile and is working as a low level clerk in the North Borough Office which gives him access to records he needs to clear the name of his mentor, Shu. Shu had been executed for a plot against the Emperor that led to Li Du's exile. He and his boss, Sun, have been called in to investigate a double murder. The two victims are Black Tile Company owner's, Hong, wife and a minor government official. It was committed in the company office and it appears the two were having an affair. This puts the investigation squarely in the middle of the Examination preparations. A three day exam is given to thousands of young scholars who want appointments to government jobs. Only a few hundred pass the test that ensures employment and a career for them. The students are in a frenzy, repairs are being made to the Examination facilities and everyone is in an uproar. Rumors abound there are ways to ensure passage of the Examination. Li Du's three investigations are the double murder, Examination fraud, and Shu's complicity all meet together with some amazing revelations. I was guessing until the end on how things would turn out. A prince returning from exile, a visit from Li Du's old friend Hamza and a beautiful old manuscripts add even more twists and turns. The history part was excellent. I enjoyed reading how Beijing was physically set up and governed, the story of the Jesuit presence, the food, the numerous temples and other every day events that make the city run. It was fascinating. Thanks to the publisher Minotaur Books and Ariana for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it. I can't wait for the next one and the author left a tantalizing teaser to keep me interested. Please write fast.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    The third book in the series of 18th Century China centers in Beijing where Li Du has returned to investigate the circumstances surrounding his mentor's execution 9 years earlier. We first meet him in Jade Dragon Mountain, following him then into the snows of White Mountain, both books compelling and rewarding reads. I would recommend that the books be read in order, though it is not strictly necessary. The writing is wonderful and rarely found. This book will be released in August, and I was pr The third book in the series of 18th Century China centers in Beijing where Li Du has returned to investigate the circumstances surrounding his mentor's execution 9 years earlier. We first meet him in Jade Dragon Mountain, following him then into the snows of White Mountain, both books compelling and rewarding reads. I would recommend that the books be read in order, though it is not strictly necessary. The writing is wonderful and rarely found. This book will be released in August, and I was privileged to receive ARC from Minotaur, my lucky day. Li Du was a scholar and librarian to the Emperor. Nine years earlier his mentor Shu was gathered up into a group of nine conspirators with Ming loyalties that conspired to kill the Emperor. This event could not be accepted by Li Du or reconciled to the man he knew and respected. The third installment picks up two years into a work assignment that has Li Du working as an assistant to his former brother-in-law, Chief Inspector Sun in the North Borough Office. The violent murders of two individuals on the grounds of The Black Tile Factory are discovered, and Sun is called to the scene. Li Du's job is to accompany and assist by taking careful notes although Sun recognizes that Li Du's intelligence and abilities are far above his own. As the investigation of these two deaths proceeds, Li Du uncovers many hidden truths about the man who died at the Black Tile Factory. He is joined by his friend from the caravan days in the mountains, storyteller Hamza, who arrives in the city dressed in Russian garb with the book Li Du had asked him to unearth and bring to Beijing. "First, why aren't you in your library? Second, and related to the first, why is a man who saved the life of an emperor employed as a humble secretary? Third, why did you send me through the sandy deserts to fetch for you a single, priceless volume?" Yes, Hamza does enliven the scene. The descriptions of life in Beijing, how the city was organized, the walls and gates as well as adventures outside the city are pictorial history lessons in living color. "There was a reason for the urgency shared each evening by noble and commoner alike with the coming of night, the city closed. The thirteen great doors of the outer wall were hauled shut by straining soldiers, sealing the capitol from external threats. But danger from without was not the only concern. There were also walls to separate the Inner City from the Outer City and divide the buroughs. Hundreds of wooden doors, guarded by soldiers, barred the alleys. Citizens and residents who wished to spend the night in their own beds had until the drum towers announced the first watch of night to reach their neighborhoods....Anonymous movement was the prerogative of gods and ghosts." It will be difficult to wait for the fourth book in this series. I know I will have to go back and read all the books again as Elsa Hart has given us a very rich time, place and central figure in Li Du, all to be admired.

  10. 4 out of 5

    ☕Laura

    This series hasn't disappointed me yet! I enjoyed my visit to Imperial China and loved learning about the civil service examination system, which I had never heard of before. The storyline had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing and culminated in a satisfying ending. I'm very thankful to the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this one! Ratings (1 to 5) Writing: 4.5 Plot: 4 Characters: 4 Emotional impact: 3.5 Overall rating: 4

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    The first two Li Du mysteries were great for armchair travelers looking for an immersive cultural setting for a mystery, and Elsa Hart certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front with City of Ink. From the many descriptions of the hectic activity in Beijing just prior to the Imperial Examinations to quieter scenes like the one in which Li Du takes a tea and dumpling break at a restaurant mid-investigation, Hart consistently creates a believably detailed world for her large cast of characters to i The first two Li Du mysteries were great for armchair travelers looking for an immersive cultural setting for a mystery, and Elsa Hart certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front with City of Ink. From the many descriptions of the hectic activity in Beijing just prior to the Imperial Examinations to quieter scenes like the one in which Li Du takes a tea and dumpling break at a restaurant mid-investigation, Hart consistently creates a believably detailed world for her large cast of characters to inhabit. It’s great to read a historical mystery where it’s so clear the author did their research! I will say that plot-wise these books sometimes move a little slowly for me and that I don’t feel like Li Du himself is as vividly drawn as some of the supporting characters. Especially in this book as aspects of his painful past are explored, I wished his emotions were a little more accessible to the reader at times. However, overall I feel confident recommending the series to any historical mystery or fiction fan in the mood for something different and for learning about Chinese history and culture along the way. These are perfect rainy afternoon books, especially with a cup of tea nearby! My thanks to Minotaur Books for sending me a ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I was contacted by Ariana Carpentieri with Minotaur Books because I had read and reviewed a previous novel in this series and received an ARC advance copy from the publisher through NetGalley—so thanks to all involved and here is my honest review. I read Jade Mountain—the first in the series, a while ago and was impressed by the faithful creation of the historical and cultural setting of 18th century China. I missed the second in the series, which I will find and read, but can say that I do not t I was contacted by Ariana Carpentieri with Minotaur Books because I had read and reviewed a previous novel in this series and received an ARC advance copy from the publisher through NetGalley—so thanks to all involved and here is my honest review. I read Jade Mountain—the first in the series, a while ago and was impressed by the faithful creation of the historical and cultural setting of 18th century China. I missed the second in the series, which I will find and read, but can say that I do not think that it lessened my enjoyment. These stories are true stand-alone novels much like Agatha Christie mysteries. Too often novels of this type (historical novels) fall into one of two traps. They are either too heavy on the history to the detriment of a really compelling story. Slogging through these novels requires enduring endless “information dumps” that scream “Look how much research I have done!” The characters are often wooden and the stories less than compelling. On the other hand, you sometimes have novels in which the story could really be set anywhere and authenticity is hardly a priority and more of a gimmick. It is a rare treat when you have a historical novel that tells a story that could only exist at a certain place in a certain time and drops you down so deep into the rabbit hole that it leaves you feeling the shift into a fully realized world. Such is the case with 18th Century Beijing in this very fine historical novel that is also a very well plotted mystery. I think it takes a special kind of writer—a historian who is also a storyteller, to pull this off. The atmosphere is finely rendered and the characters are compelling, with my favorite being Li Du’s loyal associate Hamza—the consummate storyteller and comic foil to Li Du’s intellectual purity. I read the last 40% of this e-book in one sitting because I had to find out how the many storylines resolved—and I was not disappointed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    eyes.2c

    Intriguing! First up I am a huge fan of historical mysteries set in earlier times in China and other parts of Asia. I have not read Hart's previous novels featuring Li Du, but I am now hooked and will remedy that mishap very soon. The title 'City of Ink' is so fitting as one becomes aware of the novel's setting, with the frenzied hoards of scholars that have descended on the city of Beijing. It's the early 1700's and Li Du, a scholar of some note, previously exiled from Beijing, returns to investi Intriguing! First up I am a huge fan of historical mysteries set in earlier times in China and other parts of Asia. I have not read Hart's previous novels featuring Li Du, but I am now hooked and will remedy that mishap very soon. The title 'City of Ink' is so fitting as one becomes aware of the novel's setting, with the frenzied hoards of scholars that have descended on the city of Beijing. It's the early 1700's and Li Du, a scholar of some note, previously exiled from Beijing, returns to investigate his mentor's demise. His mentor was executed for conspiracy. Working as a humble clerk, the assistant to the Chief Inspector Sun of the North Borough Office, Li Du becomes involved with the murder inquiries into the death of a local factory owner's wife. As the investigation continues Li Du feels there is more to the death than it appears on the surface. However the city officials want things solved quickly. The husband is their obvious choice--but not necessarily Li Du's. Beijing is swamped with candidates for the upcoming Civil Examinations. An occasion that can make or break a scholar and their family's future. Highly competitive, the city is rife with all sorts of high jinks and suspect practices. The Civil Examinations are the background that are part of the mix, part of the path of the investigations of the deaths and of the mystery around Li Du's private investigations. As Li Du references, "The paths to which I refer are not made of dirt and stone, but of paper and ink." Bai Chengde an eminent scholar later says, "One cannot write the whole truth, even with an ink pot as deep as the sea.” I love that image! And the whole truth of these murders and what happened to Li Du's mentor will bring so much into the fore, into point and counterpoint. The depths of the truth are indeed multilayered. Add to this the behaviour of various other parties that seem to touch on the subject, including the foreign priest, and Li Du finds himself walking on eggshells as past and present collide. A captivating read! A NetGalley ARC

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    4.5 stars Book #3 in the Li Du series. Li Du, an 18th century Chinese librarian, has returned to the capital city of Beijing after his pardon from exile by the Emperor. Li Du is working as a secretary at the north borough office which oversees local disputes, a lowly position considering his past experience and education. However, he wants to remain anonymous so he can further investigate the foiled plot to kill the Emperor; a charge which lead to his exile and lead to the execution of his mentor 4.5 stars Book #3 in the Li Du series. Li Du, an 18th century Chinese librarian, has returned to the capital city of Beijing after his pardon from exile by the Emperor. Li Du is working as a secretary at the north borough office which oversees local disputes, a lowly position considering his past experience and education. However, he wants to remain anonymous so he can further investigate the foiled plot to kill the Emperor; a charge which lead to his exile and lead to the execution of his mentor, Shu. Li Du cannot believe the charges against Shu and is out to discover the truth when a current suspicious murder of two high positioned people entangles Li Du and his supervisor into the investigation, thus postponing Li Du’s answers to the past. To be honest, I have to mention that I love this series. Li Du is a wonderful, thoughtful librarian who wants to know the truth which thrusts him into the role of ‘detective’. Also, the culture of ancient China plays a huge role in this series. It is amazing to learn of ancient China in the 1700’s with its knowledge and culture of the imperial families and the wealthy entrepreneurs of society versus the laboring class. Elsa Hart’s writing in this book kept me reading to the next chapter. It is a mystery book not a thriller but there is definitely murder involved. So, why 4.5 stars and not a full 5? Towards the end of the book, so many storyline threads were taking place and I could not see how it would come together and solve the initial reason for Li Du being in Beijing. It felt a little slow BUT much to my enjoyment, the ending was superb! I wish I could include the ending in this review but what a spoiler! Please trust that it is a great ending and one I could not see coming. I look forward to Book #4 in this series. This can be read as a standalone if someone wants to start here but the other books are equally great. Recommend to those who enjoy a thoughtful mystery with historical background. Thank you to Ariana of Minotaur Books for contacting me to receive an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I am so glad that I discovered Elsa Hart and her Li Du Novels series. Ms. Hart brings Dynastic China to life through her vivid descriptions and characters. I picked up the first book in the series, Jade Dragon Mountain: A Mystery - simply because the cover of the book was to beautiful to pass on. What I found, was a bright and humble librarian turned inadvertent detective. Li Du reminds me of some of my favorite mystery heroes, such as Hercule Poirot and Armand Gamache. I love a good old-fashion I am so glad that I discovered Elsa Hart and her Li Du Novels series. Ms. Hart brings Dynastic China to life through her vivid descriptions and characters. I picked up the first book in the series, Jade Dragon Mountain: A Mystery - simply because the cover of the book was to beautiful to pass on. What I found, was a bright and humble librarian turned inadvertent detective. Li Du reminds me of some of my favorite mystery heroes, such as Hercule Poirot and Armand Gamache. I love a good old-fashioned mystery, whether it is contemporary or historical, as long as the character truly navigates the mystery through good old-fashioned methods. But what probably draws to me to Li Du, more than anything, is that he loves his books more than anything, and is a true librarian and scholar beneath it all. Yet, he rises to the challenges that he meets without fear, because at the heart, he wants to do what is right. This series is so wonderfully written. I cannot wait to see what adventures Li Du will go on next!

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Litt

    This is really an exceptional book. The world-building is beautiful, the plot was riveting, the characters were rich and full of life. I enjoyed the other two books in the series but this one is the best yet and if you're considering reading it and choose not to read to you will be making a mistake, I promise. (And I don't say this about many books.)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    This is such an intelligent series! Well researched, carefully plotted, the story unfolds like a roll of elegant silk. Next, please!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    A way different take on the historical mystery! Set in China in the 1800s, it features Li Du, the imperial librarian turned sleuth, who in this installment in the series has taken as job as a clerk hoping to work on answers to why his mentor Shu was executed for a crime Li Du is sure he did not commit. Shortly after, however, he finds himself drawn into a current and ugly situation involving the deaths of two people- the wife of a tile factory owner and the construction manager presumed to her l A way different take on the historical mystery! Set in China in the 1800s, it features Li Du, the imperial librarian turned sleuth, who in this installment in the series has taken as job as a clerk hoping to work on answers to why his mentor Shu was executed for a crime Li Du is sure he did not commit. Shortly after, however, he finds himself drawn into a current and ugly situation involving the deaths of two people- the wife of a tile factory owner and the construction manager presumed to her lover. As he unwinds the mystery, there's a fascinating thread about civil service exams of the time. Wonderful. What makes this so special is what you'll learn about China during the period. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC- I had not read the first two books but that did not hamper my enjoyment of this one. I'm looking forward to the next one!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    I received an ARC from the publisher (Minotaur Books -- thank you, Ariana!) in exchange for an honest review. The third book in the Li Du series was complex and kept me guessing right up until the end. This historical mystery series is set in 18th century China with an imperial librarian, Li Du, serving as a detective. His keen intellect, impeccable research skills, and methodical analysis have served him well in both roles and in the new role he takes on in the latest offering. Books play a key I received an ARC from the publisher (Minotaur Books -- thank you, Ariana!) in exchange for an honest review. The third book in the Li Du series was complex and kept me guessing right up until the end. This historical mystery series is set in 18th century China with an imperial librarian, Li Du, serving as a detective. His keen intellect, impeccable research skills, and methodical analysis have served him well in both roles and in the new role he takes on in the latest offering. Books play a key role in unraveling the mysteries, which is something that I particularly enjoyed. In this installment, the formerly exiled Li Du is called back to the capital. He never envisioned being able to come back home, but returns to Beijing and begins working as a humble clerk in the Outer City. This is a strategic decision on his part, as the new job offers anonymity and access to records he needs to unravel the mystery of his mentor Shu's execution. His relationship to Shu is what prompted the Emperor to send send Li Du into exile, so he must tread lightly given his recent return. At the beginning of the story, the wife of a local factory owner and a man who appeared to have been her lover are found dead. While his superiors believe that this was a crime of passion committed by the woman's husband, Li Du suspects the crime was more calculated. As this investigation and the secret investigation into Li Du's mentor's death progress, it becomes clear that neither case is as it seems. What is clear is that as Li Du grows closer to the truth, the truth may prove to be too dangerous to handle. Thanks to the lush language and vivid historical details, I felt like I had been transported to 18th century China and was traveling alongside Li Du and his friend Hamza on their journey to discover the truth behind the past and present murders. The historical details enriched the story immensely and created a three dimensional world with characters that I enjoyed spending time with and would want to revisit in the future. I found the nuanced pacing of the story to be pitch perfect. With just three books in the series, it would be easy to get caught up if the series were new to you. I would recommend reading the series in order; however, the author did an excellent job of introducing key facts from the first two books that would make it easy enough to pick this one up first, and then go back to the first two books to get the full scoop. If you enjoy historical mysteries set in foreign lands written in the tradition of Agatha Christie, this series should be right up your alley.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Olivia Farr

    "City of Ink" was a fantastic third book in the Li Du series. Li Du is no longer in exile, and has traveled to Beijing where he works as a secretary for his former brother-in-law (his wife had divorced him when he was exiled). He is using the low profile to investigate the death of his former mentor and friend, Shu. Shu was convicted of treason (as part of a group conspiring to kill the emperor) and executed, and due to his relationship with Shu, Li Du was exiled. Li Du has maintained his mentor "City of Ink" was a fantastic third book in the Li Du series. Li Du is no longer in exile, and has traveled to Beijing where he works as a secretary for his former brother-in-law (his wife had divorced him when he was exiled). He is using the low profile to investigate the death of his former mentor and friend, Shu. Shu was convicted of treason (as part of a group conspiring to kill the emperor) and executed, and due to his relationship with Shu, Li Du was exiled. Li Du has maintained his mentor's innocence and is now on a mission to understand what happened if not solve the mystery. While working as a secretary for Sun, a murder of two high profile people occurs in the Black Tile Factory- apparent lovers, Li Du believes there is more to the story than does everyone else. As he investigates the murders, evidence accumulates towards other crimes, and the story unravels into something much more complex than could have been anticipated. Luckily, accompanied by Hamza, the great storyteller, Li Du is able to follow the evidence to resolve all the varied plotlines. Gripping, intricate, and well-plotted, this book is absolutely a pleasure to read. Set up like a police procedural (in 1700s China), Li Du follows each thread of information to its stunning conclusion, and all the tidbits we hear along the way come together beautifully. Hamza has been- and remains- my favorite character for his fascinating and entertaining stories. We hear fewer of his stories in this book than in the past, but he is a familiar friend, and it is delightful to witness his involvement in this third book. Although it had been a while since I read the first two, I found this one absolutely easy to follow- key points from past books were recapped, and this is an entirely new mystery. You don't need to have read the first two books to enjoy this one, but I appreciated having the background on the main characters which make the story feel like reading about old friends rather than new investigators. I think this one is even better (if possible) than the last two, and I highly recommend you give this book a read! Please note that I received an ARC from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    The prologue to Elsa Hart's third installment of her fine Li Du series begins enigmatically. An unnamed man is the recipient of a mysterious letter written in Chinese. As he sits inside a spacious tent and reads the missive he begins to smile and then plot his journey to the capital city in order to carry out the request in the letter. Chapter one shifts the scene to 1700s Beijing which is filled with hopeful scholars preparing for the government examinations which will either result in an illus The prologue to Elsa Hart's third installment of her fine Li Du series begins enigmatically. An unnamed man is the recipient of a mysterious letter written in Chinese. As he sits inside a spacious tent and reads the missive he begins to smile and then plot his journey to the capital city in order to carry out the request in the letter. Chapter one shifts the scene to 1700s Beijing which is filled with hopeful scholars preparing for the government examinations which will either result in an illustrious future or dismal failure. Tile factory manager Hu Gongshan is hosting a literary party hoping to glean advice from the attending scholars to help his son who will be taking the exams. However, when the wife of the factory owner and her supposed lover are found dead the story shifts again. Amateur sleuth Li Du (who has returned from exile two years previously) finally enters the story. Despite the emperor's pardon Li Du has taken a low level job as a clerk. And though his work is mundane it gives him access to records he hopes will exonerate his disgraced mentor. His search, the murders, the political intrigue and the heady atmosphere of Beijing during the examinations are combined with finesse by Ms. Hart. Her meticulous research, again, shines along with her gifted story-telling. The tale is complex, nuanced and intriguing to the very end. Bit by bit, almost like a lotus flower opening its petals, Ms. Hart transports us to another time, another place so adroitly that you wish to remain with the characters, a few of whom were previously introduced in the two earlier books. I have been impressed by this series from the beginning and will continue to read each new installment. My thanks to Ariana and Minotaur for my ARC and the opportunity for an early reading/honest review of Elsa Hart's latest...a true pleasure!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jean Kolinofsky

    Li Du, a librarian in the Imperial library of Beijing, was sent into exile after his mentor Shu confessed to his involvement in a plot to assassinate the Emperor. Nine years have passed and he has returned to settle into a position as a secretary to the Chief Inspector of the Northern Borough. It is a humble position, but one that allows access to records that may explain why his mentor confessed to something that Li Du knows was untrue. As the city prepares for the grueling exams that young men Li Du, a librarian in the Imperial library of Beijing, was sent into exile after his mentor Shu confessed to his involvement in a plot to assassinate the Emperor. Nine years have passed and he has returned to settle into a position as a secretary to the Chief Inspector of the Northern Borough. It is a humble position, but one that allows access to records that may explain why his mentor confessed to something that Li Du knows was untrue. As the city prepares for the grueling exams that young men must take if they hope for a government position, Li Du and the Inspector are called to a tile factory where the owner’s wife and her supposed lover have been murdered. As Li Du looks into the murders he discovers blackmail, corruption tied to the exams and ties to the plot that led to Shu’s death and his own exile. Elsa Hart has crafted a character who is patient, yet determined to find the truth. Her story steadily unfolds as Li Du travels the streets and temples of eighteenth century Beijing. He is often accompanied by Hamza, a storyteller who finds a tale for every occasion. From the gates of the city to the noodle shops and finally to the Imperial Palace, Hart draws you in to the world of Li Du. This is the third book in the series and I eagerly look forward to the next adventure. I would like to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing an advanced copy for my review.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J. Else

    China, 1711. Li Du returned to his home of Beijing three years ago and is still trying to unlock a mystery from his past. Working as a clerk in the North Borough Office, his personal investigation is interrupted when he is called to assist the chief inspector at the scene of a crime. At a tile factory, two bodies have been found, the factory owner’s wife and a man appearing to be her lover—both murdered. A discarded love note left at the scene makes the husband their prime suspect. But during in China, 1711. Li Du returned to his home of Beijing three years ago and is still trying to unlock a mystery from his past. Working as a clerk in the North Borough Office, his personal investigation is interrupted when he is called to assist the chief inspector at the scene of a crime. At a tile factory, two bodies have been found, the factory owner’s wife and a man appearing to be her lover—both murdered. A discarded love note left at the scene makes the husband their prime suspect. But during inquiries, Li Du uncovers more than a jealous husband. How far can he go before threats from powerful men become more than just brushstrokes of ink on paper? Elsa Hart’s third Li Du novel continues to impress. The mystery is multilayered and keeps you guessing. The setting breathes within the narrative, vividly enchanting readers into 18th-century China. Hart’s narration has a musical quality that is descriptive while adding cultural flair. From the way tea leaves sulk in a cup to the way walls drape across the landscape like a necklace, the prose is beguiling. With an intelligent plot, intriguing characters, and historical depth, this book is a delight! Review originally posted via the Historical Novel Society at https://historicalnovelsociety.org/re...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    My favorite one so far. The descriptions of Beijing are so vivid. (Though all of her writing is wonderfully descriptive.) Plus we're getting to know more about Li Du. And Hamza wasn't annoying this time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality Like its absolutely marvelous predecessors, Jade Dragon Mountain and The White Mirror, City of Ink is an immersive journey into 18th century China that pulls the reader all the way in and doesn’t let go even after the end. In other words, I finished this last night and I still have a terrible book hangover. A part of me is with the storyteller Hamza, still following Li Du around Beijing in search of solutions, both to the seemingly sordid murder that has his Originally published at Reading Reality Like its absolutely marvelous predecessors, Jade Dragon Mountain and The White Mirror, City of Ink is an immersive journey into 18th century China that pulls the reader all the way in and doesn’t let go even after the end. In other words, I finished this last night and I still have a terrible book hangover. A part of me is with the storyteller Hamza, still following Li Du around Beijing in search of solutions, both to the seemingly sordid murder that has his current attention and his quest to find justice for his friend and mentor, whose earlier crimes sent Li Du into exile before the beginning of his story (at least to us) in Jade Dragon Mountain. As City of Ink begins, Li Du has been back in Beijing for two years. At the end of The White Mirror it was obvious that he was planning to turn back towards home, and he has done so But his exile is now 9 years in the past, and events in the capital have moved on from where they were when he left. His beloved library is no more – or at least it is no longer staffed by librarians like Li Du. His wife divorced him in the wake of his exile, and even though that exile was rescinded by a grateful emperor at the end of Jade Dragon Mountain, his marriage is over, as is his career. We return to this world to find Li Du as an overqualified clerk in a lowly office, assisting his supervisor (and cousin) by performing all of the clerical work that the other man has no desire to do. As overqualified as Li Du is for the job, it leaves him plenty of time to surreptitiously search other offices for documents relating to the crime his mentor was accused of. Li Du has discovered that the man was innocent – and needs to prove it – if only to his own satisfaction. After two years he believes he has reached the end of the trail. He has found the man who links all of the other conspirators in that long-ago treason. Or at least links all of the others except his old friend. But his confrontation with the man proves unsatisfactory, leaving Li Du at loose ends. His interest is taken up by what at first seems like a simple murder case. It is the job of his office to investigate crimes before turning the evidence over to the magistrates, and this crime seems simple enough. A man and a woman are found dead in a locked room at the site of her husband’s business. It looks like the husband found them in flagrante delicto and killed them both in a drunken rage. Under these particular circumstances, the crime will be forgiven. But Li Du, as usual, finds that all is not as it initially seems. The husband, after all, believes that he would at least remember murdering his wife and her lover, no matter how drunk he was. And he was very, very drunk, but he does not remember committing murder. Li Du, frustrated in his inability to find justice for his old friend, becomes determined to seek out justice in this case. And refuses to let go no matter how often he is first requested and then ordered to turn it over to the magistrate. Where the magistrate sees the later suicide of the husband as proof of his guilt, Li Du merely sees it as proof that the prison guards can be bribed – only because they can be. Just as with the cases in both Jade Dragon Mountain and The White Mirror, Li Du is left to navigate the conflicting possibilities of not just who benefits from these particular murders, but also who benefits from covering them up. And finds himself led right back to the place where he began, unravelling the mystery that left his old friend convicted of a treason that he certainly did not commit. Escape Rating A: I started this on the plane from California, and wasn’t ready to let it go when I landed. And I’m still not. Usually when I get really invested in a mystery series, it’s because of the characters. But when I get this invested in a fantasy or science fiction series, it is often all about the worldbuilding. The Li Du series are unusual for me in that it isn’t about the characters, it’s about the immersiveness of the world. This is not to say that I don’t like Li Du, because I do. But he is also a bit of a cypher – or perhaps an onion whose outer skin has just begun to peel back. In his exile, he became extremely wary of revealing much of himself to much of anyone – and that is even more true in his return to Beijing. He is currently hiding much of his light under his bushel basket, and as a consequence the reader only sees bits of his true self peek out. But the world, the recreation of early-18th century China, sucks the reader right in and doesn’t let go. This is one of those books where you see the sights, smell the smells, and feel the cobbles under your feet just as Li Du does. City of Ink, as well as the first book, Jade Dragon Mountain, are very much political mysteries. While Li Du is always following the investigator’s first premise, “Who benefits?”, he is best when he does so in an urban environment redolent with politics and the stink of political corruption. His ability to solve the crime relies on not just his intelligence but also his knowledge of the way that things work in the world that he used to inhabit – that of the Imperial court. That the catchphrase “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” was not said until more than a century after this series takes place, and half a world away at that, does not change the applicability of the axiom. In City of Ink, it is up to Li Du’s dogged persistence to figure out whose corruption lies at the heart of this case, and whose power is determined to cover it up. This is a world that I can’t wait to step back into. May Li Du’s journeys long continue!

  26. 5 out of 5

    nikkia neil

    Thanks St. Martin's Press and netgalley for this ARC. Elsa Hart has that magic touch as a author to make each book fresh, nostalgic , and zingy. I'll follow this series til the end of days.

  27. 4 out of 5

    April Gray

    Li Du, a former Imperial librarian, is back in Beijing after being pardoned from exile by the Emperor. He leads a quiet, unobtrusive existence working as a clerk to Chief Inspector Sun in the North Borough office, transcribing reports on the petty crimes investigated by the office, composing letters and speeches, and other such duties, while giving him access to investigate the execution of his friend and mentor, Shu. One morning, two bodies are found in the office of a local tile factory- Madam Li Du, a former Imperial librarian, is back in Beijing after being pardoned from exile by the Emperor. He leads a quiet, unobtrusive existence working as a clerk to Chief Inspector Sun in the North Borough office, transcribing reports on the petty crimes investigated by the office, composing letters and speeches, and other such duties, while giving him access to investigate the execution of his friend and mentor, Shu. One morning, two bodies are found in the office of a local tile factory- Madame Hong, the factory owner's wife, and Pan Yongfa, the Ministry of Rites official in charge of an audit on the factory's accounts. Sun and Li Du are called to the scene, and while Sun believes it is a crime of passion, the husband killing the two of them after finding them together, Li Du thinks there's more to the story, and decides to investigate on his own. With the help of his trusted friend, Hamza, Li Du does just that, uncovering a much more complicated story than what appearances suggest happened. This is the third book in the series, but thanks to the author's careful inclusion of pertinent backstory from the first two books, it can be read alone without feeling like something is missing. References back to the previous books were blended in well with the current story; there wasn't a distracting, "here's some exposition!" feeling to it, but I'm definitely intrigued and will be picking up the earlier books! Elsa Hart's writing is gorgeous, and the setting really comes alive with rich detail. The characters are very well fleshed out, and feel like real people. The tension of the story stays even, with tantalizing clues dropped like breadcrumbs to keep one immersed in the plot. The conclusion is satisfying, wrapping things up while leaving some threads dangling, promising to resurface in future books. the book ends with clear hints of more books to follow, and I look forward to them!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I happily stumbled upon the author's first book, Jade Dragon Mountain, when it was first published, and was immediately enthralled with the combination of historical fiction and mystery. The author's attention to details as well as the characters of Li Du and Hamza made me eager to read her next book, The White Mirror. City of Ink is the author's third Li Du mystery, and having just finished it, I'm eager to read the next one! This book takes place in Beijing, where Li Du has a modest job that al I happily stumbled upon the author's first book, Jade Dragon Mountain, when it was first published, and was immediately enthralled with the combination of historical fiction and mystery. The author's attention to details as well as the characters of Li Du and Hamza made me eager to read her next book, The White Mirror. City of Ink is the author's third Li Du mystery, and having just finished it, I'm eager to read the next one! This book takes place in Beijing, where Li Du has a modest job that allows him to uncover a mystery in his own past. However, there is also a mystery he is investigating as part of his job, and he continues to discover more and more about both as the novel progresses. The beginning of the book starts by placing us immediately in the story in a way we aren't yet understanding. It's a good technique to pull us in, though it also meant I was unclear about what was happening right away. The story is set before the examinations, which I'd read about in other books, but Hart gives us rich details to help us grasp the importance of these examinations for moving up the ladder in 18th century China. Happily, Hamza eventually enters the story -- he's a delightful, somewhat enigmatic storyteller who helps Li Du think through the mystery(ies). As in the previous books, the Jesuits are also supporting characters in the story, along with book sellers and collectors who connect with Li Du through their love of writing. (Li Du was a librarian in the palace many years ago.) I was happy to be pulled into another Li Du mystery, and it didn't disappoint -- and now I want to know what happens next! (Also, this series would make an excellent PBS mystery. Just sayin'.) Thank you to Ariana at Minotaur Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    Li Du has returned to Beijing from his travels in Tibet. He has not returned to his previous position as librarian, but to a less significant job as secretary to a minor magistrate. He is hoping to use his free time and access to official documents to find out the truth about the death of Shu, his friend and mentor who was executed for involvement in the plot that led to Li Du’s exile in the first book in the series. The city is in an uproar. Six thousand candidates are present to take the three Li Du has returned to Beijing from his travels in Tibet. He has not returned to his previous position as librarian, but to a less significant job as secretary to a minor magistrate. He is hoping to use his free time and access to official documents to find out the truth about the death of Shu, his friend and mentor who was executed for involvement in the plot that led to Li Du’s exile in the first book in the series. The city is in an uproar. Six thousand candidates are present to take the three days of examinations to qualify for civil service jobs. Only a few hundred will qualify and be eligible for the highest government jobs. The temptation to cheat is rampant, and is punishable by death. Spies are everywhere. In the midst of all this, there is a double homicide. The easy, obvious answer is crime of passion – jealous husband catches wife and her lover and kills them. The husband, an alcoholic factory owner denies the crime, but is arrested. He dies in jail, and it is unclear whether it is murder or suicide. Li Du’s boss wants the case to be gone, but finally allows Li Du a little more time to investigate, just to assure that no criticism can leveled at his performance. Li Du’s friend and travelling companion, Hamza the storyteller, has come to the city and is an invaluable help in the attempt to unravel the murders and to see if there is any connection to Shu’s execution. All three books in this series are notable for their vivid portrait of Chinese life and culture in the 1700’s – the political intrigues, the complicated rivalries of the Emperor’s household, the presence of European priests who have their own agendas. The characters – Li Du and Hamza – complement each other personally and in their pursuits. The plot development is engaging – all in all a very good read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I received this book in exchange for a fair review. I loved it, just as I loved the earlier two in this series. Li Du had a prestigious job as a librarian in Beijing until he was sent into exile because one of his friends was a traitor to the Emperor. Fortunately, he was able to perform some service for the Emperor personally and received a pardon, but by that time he had a taste for the roaming life. Now he has returned to Beijing, but not to his old life; he has a job as a humble clerk for his I received this book in exchange for a fair review. I loved it, just as I loved the earlier two in this series. Li Du had a prestigious job as a librarian in Beijing until he was sent into exile because one of his friends was a traitor to the Emperor. Fortunately, he was able to perform some service for the Emperor personally and received a pardon, but by that time he had a taste for the roaming life. Now he has returned to Beijing, but not to his old life; he has a job as a humble clerk for his former brother-in-law. He has heard a rumor that his old friend Shu was not guilty, and he finds evidence for this--the letter denouncing Shu was written by Shu himself! Li's friend the storyteller Hamza joins him, as he investigates the death of an official and a factory-owner's wife, which the authorities would be glad to put down to a double murder by an enraged husband. No, the two cases don't turn out to be the same, but Li Du has another meeting with the Emperor before he figures them out. The richness of the setting and the depth of the history resemble the two earlier books, but because this one is largely about an intellectual pursuit--through the books and records of the ministries that Li has been searching through for his two years' labor in the city--the action doesn't start until Hamza arrives. But the characterizations are even richer, as Li, who still pines for his old life, realizes that he must go on with his new life, not because of the Emperor's decree, but because of the ways he has been changed by his experience. Read it by all means, but read the first two first--you'll be glad you did.

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