Eliot Pattison, . . St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95 (419pp) ISBN 978-0-312-20612-3

Few mystery sequels have been awaited with as much anticipation as this one, and in many ways this is a worthy successor to Pattison's first novel, the Edgar- winning The Skull Mantra (1999); it too is full of reverence for the beleaguered people of Tibet, especially its tortured and imprisoned Buddhist monks. "I know that of all the world I have seen, the lamas are the best part of it," says Shan Tao Yun, a former high-ranking police investigator from Beijing who—because he looked too deeply into some financial scandal—was disgraced and imprisoned in a Tibetan gulag, where his life and his soul were saved by the monks who were his fellow prisoners. Released without official consent after his investigations into a murder exposed Chinese corruption, Shan has been living quietly among the monks, awaiting his chance to escape the country with the UN's help. Will he now risk his freedom to find out who killed a revered teacher and several wandering orphan boys? To Pattison's credit, he makes Shan's choice to roam across the wastes of northern Tibet in a virtually endless and dangerous search seem inevitable and totally believable—even if some readers would rather see him in action on the streets of London or San Francisco. And Shan's companions are largely fascinating: a vast gallery of Kazakh resistance fighters, White Russian smugglers who ride camels along the old Silk Road and Chinese officials of varying degrees of nastiness. Finally, though, there are too many people, places, events and questions—and pages—to sustain the amazing energy of Pattison's initial creation. (June 2)

Forecast:Given the critical success of The Skull Mantra, which is being released simultaneously in paperback, and continuing political controversy surrounding China, this book has real breakout potential.