I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher.
Until I reached the halfway point of Antonio Garrido’s The Corpse Reader, I was looking for reasons to give up reading it. The writing is choppy. The dialog is rife with anachronisms. (Honestly, medieval Chinese people saying, “Okay” and “See you later” and paraphrasing Mark Twain?) You only get to really know the main character, Cí Song; the other characters are mostly cardboard villains or ciphers. And yet, I stuck with it. After all, how often do you get to read a book set in the early thirteenth century in China? I don’t really know why, but I kept reading the misadventures of Cí.
Cí Song, based on the actual Song Cí, is one of those people whose only luck is bad luck. In the first half of the book, everything is against him and I lost count of the number of times he was hit on the back of the head and knocked unconscious. In short order, Cí’s brother is accused and convicted of murder. His parents are killed in a landslide. In order to get his brother’s sentence commuted, Cí sells the family land to an unscrupulous land baron and finds himself in the middle of a tangle of corruption. He flees for Lin’an, the capital at the time, with his terminally ill little sister. Cí manages to take a job as a gravedigger, but that doesn’t last long when a scheming fortune teller has him use the gig to get money out of grieving family members in return for having Cí figure out how they died. Even when Cí manages to get himself out of that pickle and lands a spot at a local academy, it doesn’t take long for his new acquaintances to start plotting against him.
All this brings us up to the halfway point, where the novel really starts to get good. (Even though the anachronisms still rankle.) Cí is hired by the emperor’s councilor of punishment, Kan, to work out how three (later four) men were brutally murdered and dismembered. Garrido does an absolutely incredible job in bringing together all the disparate injustices of Cí’s life into a massive, astonishing conspiracy. The end of this book is worth putting up with the first half. It truly is a remarkable ending.