The Corpse Reader. Finished 5-28-13, rating 4.75/5, historical fiction, 494 pages, pub. 2011 (Spain) 2013 (US)
After his grandfather dies, avid scholar and budding forensic investigator Cí Song begrudgingly gives up his studies to help his family. But when another tragedy strikes, he’s forced to run and also deemed a fugitive. Dishonored, he has no choice but to accept work as a lowly gravedigger, a position that allows him to sharpen his corpse-reading skills. Soon, he can deduce whether a person killed himself—or was murdered.
His prowess earns him notoriety, and Cí receives orders to unearth the perpetrator of a horrific series of mutilations and deaths at the Imperial Court. Cí’s gruesome investigation quickly grows complicated thanks to old loyalties and the presence of an alluring, enigmatic woman. But he remains driven by his passion for truth—especially once the killings threaten to take down the Emperor himself.
Inspired by Song Cí, considered to be the founding father of CSI-style forensic science, this harrowing novel set during the thirteenth-century Tsong Dynasty draws readers into a multilayered, ingenious plot as disturbing as it is fascinating. -from Goodreads
In 2012 this book received the Zaragoza International Prize for best historical novel published in Spain. When I was offered the book from Wunderkind PR, I resisted at first. I love books and shows about forensic science but am not much of a historical fiction reader. And 13th century China is not a period I’m very familiar with. So, it is with great surprise that I can tell you that I loved this book.
In some ways Ci’s life story arc reminded me just a little bit of Lin from Shantaram. Yes, a different country and centuries apart, but in both there is this feeling that things cannot possible get any worse…until they do. That book too was loosely based on real life. Ci Song is based on the first forensic scientist, the one who literally wrote the books on the field. Since there are only about 5 paragraphs to be found about the man, Aontonio Garrido had license to make a great story. And he did.
This book was full of Chinese tradition, heartache, death, friendship, loss, opportunity, I feel like I could go on for quite a while so I’ll resort to the cliché that it had it all. Not only was this about Ci having to rely on his wits and smarts to stay alive there is also a great mystery that gets him into the Imperial Palace. I learned about the culture and found myself scratching my head often wondering if I would have gone mad with some of the customs back then. Probably.
I thoroughly enjoyed this saga and found myself reading when I should have been sleeping and that is high praise from this sleep deprived mama. The only thing keeping it from a 5 is that the translation felt very current. It did not feel like I was reading a book set in the 13th century, immensely readable but not really true to the period of the book. Common phrases did take me out of China and into today but I didn’t hold that against the story since I assume that much of that came from the translation. That may bother some of you more than me.
It was just released here this week and I recommend you take a look.