In the third installment of her Li Du series, set in 18th century Beijing, Hart's titular librarian and amateur sleuth uses his archival-research skills to unravel the mystery surrounding his mentor's execution. But just as he begins to make progress, another murder occurs that strikes Li Du as an attempt to cover secrets.
Elsa Hart’s third mystery is her best featuring Li Du as a out-of-favor court librarian in 18th-century China. She hits the mark with detailed but readable descriptions of the early Qing Dynasty and its stratified customs ... Hart describes her main characters well ... dialogue is quick and informative—about the knowledge of her protagonist and of Chinese publishing. Hart’s research and storytelling make for a compelling read that tells us about China 400 years ago and holds our interest until the story’s surprising conclusion.
City of Ink is, no exaggeration, a work of art. Elsa Hart has crafted a story that defies genre labels. It’s a mystery, yes, but this is no mere police procedural or political thriller—it’s both and neither. It’s a character-driven personal drama, as the bookish and middle-aged Li Du proves that the bravest heroes don’t have to be muscle-bound action stars—they can also be quiet scholars willing to dare public execution to uncover long-hidden truths. It’s also a meaty historical novel, richly researched and brought so vibrantly to life that 1700s Beijing is a major character in and of itself ... The plot has as many turns and blind alleyways as the labyrinthine city. Each new clue takes Li Du in unexpected directions, introducing new characters and shocking revelations. If you’ve grown frustrated with novels that are far too easy to predict, City of Ink is a perfect antidote to that jaded cynicism. Hart does a splendid job of making the Far East and its people—so often reduced to stereotypes and shallow mysticism—solid and real ... a wonderfully satisfying climax, one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever read ... Whether you love mystery, history, Chinese culture, or well-rounded characters, you need to read City of Ink.
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!