cover image City of Ink

City of Ink

Elsa Hart. Minotaur, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-14279-5

Hart’s superb third novel set in 18th-century China (after 2016’s The White Mirror) finds librarian Li Du back in Beijing after a period of exile. As the secretary to Chief Inspector Sun, he transcribes witness statements and performs other clerical duties. When two bodies are found in a tile factory office with their throats slit, Li Du accompanies his boss to the scene. The victims are Madam Hong, whose husband, Hong, owns the factory, and Pan Yongfa, an employee of the Ministry of Rites, responsible for negotiating contracts with Hong and inspecting the quality of the work being done. The proximity of the corpses to each other leads Sun to suspect that they were discovered in flagrante delicto by Hong, who murdered them in a jealous rage—a motive that under Chinese law serves as an absolute defense. Hong refuses to confess, however, and Li Du, who suspects that the case is much less straightforward than it appears, investigates on his own. As always, Hart excels at making even walk-on characters fully realized and at combining a gripping whodunit plot with a vivid evocation of the period. This entry solidifies her status as a top-notch historical mystery author. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, Gernert Co. (Aug.)