Literary reincarnation novel a must-read for Buddhist mystery fans
Read “Yü” to explore how passion and murder can transcend centuries as Ross Lamos uses his powerful Touch to unfurl the stories of the prince, the emperor, and the concubine bound within three jade objects. Read “Yü” for the haiku-like perfection of the jade stories themselves. Read “Yü” for the vibrant historical details, the taut mystery, the secret romance. But if you’re a fan of spiritual fiction, read it you must. Joy Shane Laughter (rhymes with “daughter”) has penned one of the smartest, most engaging literary mysteries I’ve read in a long time.
Story: Forbidden love, the Imperial Court of the Han Dynasty, jades worth millions on the black market … Ross Lamos, 21st-Century Karmic Detective, knows that somehow, the history of the three jades is his as well. Yü, the Stone of Heaven, jade art born from the genius of ancient China. Lamos has built his career dealing Asian art and antiquities by hiding his very useful psychic Touch. When he holds the jades, the yü will reveal an extraordinary history. Lamos will risk everything to protect the jades, and finally remember his role in a love story that changed the course of a Dynasty … the love between an extraordinary Concubine and a Prince, the son of her Emperor, and the Poet caught between them all … a story hidden for two thousand years in three pieces of yü. Yü is the award-winning first novel by Joy Shayne Laughter and begins the Ross Lamos mystery series. (From amazon.com)
Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Ross possesses psychometry–the ability to sense information about an object and the people associated with it. When he touches the jade pieces, he falls headlong into visions from the Imperial Palace of the Han Dynasty. The breathtaking jade stories build upon spiritual principles from that time, primarily Taoist writings by Chuang Tzu. One of the most moving sections vividly describes an exercise that people assume enhances combat skills. “What a misunderstanding,” says the concubine who practices the art. “The exercise is an increase in lightness and joy . . . you expand your welcome and embrace all of life . . . It is teasing play, where two minds learn to meet, speak together in silence, and then have a witty debate in movement.” It is through this meditative practice that the concubine first engages with the prince as he secretly watches her practice. Laughter does a splendid job of demonstrating how past traumas set the stage for our current lives, and she employs the Buddhist Middle Way to help her characters understand and work through their present karma.
My take: This multi-dimensional literary mystery brilliantly interweaves reincarnation stories into a contemporary mystery. By writing the stories in first person, ancient events seem immediate and compelling, almost more so than the present-day mystery that Ross unravels. The story culminates with a cunning identity twist that is totally unexpected, and totally satisfying.
The historical details from the Han Dynasty are not decorative fabric draped about the story, as is the case in many reincarnation novels, but essential to the action. For instance, the concubine communicates with her lover across an imperial court rife with spies, secret alliances, and conspiracies using a secret language of fans. But nothing stays secret for long within the claustrophobic walls of the Imperial Palace.
Laughter’s jade stories burst at the seams with elegant, concise, and yet restrained prose that pierces the true nature of each character. She evokes sympathy for a villain with a single, well-crafted line: “He carries so many more secrets than I. We both need so much comfort. ” Spare and beautiful, each word of the many jade stories performs double and even triple duty–prose haiku. Even the act of eating in public becomes an intimate, sensual act filled with tension and danger, more highly charged–and more thrilling to the reader–than the most explicit passages of a romance novel.
The simplicity of the jade stories resonates in bold contrast to her full-bodied descriptions of our contemporary world, details that pull you into a deeper understanding of what it is like to experience the Touch. The jade stories quilt together layers of tension, culminating in a crescendo that, unfortunately, the real-time story can’t quite match. The jade stories so overpower the actual mystery that one is left wanting more than the climax can deliver.
Cheers to Joy Shane Laughter for this haunting, beautifully researched Buddhist detective novel. I cannot wait to read the next book in the Ross Lamos series.
Yü: A Ross Lamos Mystery, by Joy Shayne Laughter
Open Book Press, 2010
Paperback, 226 pages
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