In 2014, English professional mountain guide Neil Quinn, the protagonist of this intriguing thriller from Farthing (Summit), is at his base camp on a mountain in Tibet when he sees Chinese soldiers kill three unarmed yak herders. Quinn captures the Tibetans’ deaths on his iPhone, and emails the video to Henrietta Richards, a retired British embassy staffer who’s lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, for decades. Back in Kathmandu, Quinn teams with Richards and an American freelance journalist to try to expose the truth in the face of the Chinese government’s determined opposition. Their efforts lead them to wonder whether a shadowy group known as the ghost moths, which operated during the Cultural Revolution and fought the Chinese to protect Tibetans and their holy relics, is still at work. Farthing is particularly good at creating a memorable bad guy, a sadistic Chinese security officer whose nickname is Yama, the Tibetan Lord of Death. Fans of Eliot Pattison will want to check out this issues-driven thriller. Agent: Will Roberts, Gernert Agency. (Feb.)
The Himalayas hold secrets to Tibet’s past as well as its present.
After a poetic opening section that touts the importance of the ghost moth as a medicinal source, an exemplar of rugged survival, and a status symbol, the book begins in 1981 with American climber Christopher Anderson, who's killed on Makalu Mountain by a falling rock after carving a moth into the rock face and seeing, inexplicably, the face of a Tibetan child. In 1950, 8-year-old Pema Chöje, who finds a skull buried deep in a hillside, is forced to surrender it to a soldier in Mao Tse-tung’s new People’s Liberation Army. Dreams of the skull haunt the boy for years as the Communist Party strengthens its hold on his nation by destroying a village and a beloved monastery. Then, in 2014, the exploits of British mountain guide Neil Quinn harken back to the monumental events of half a century earlier. Farthing’s sprawling plot unfolds in short, elegantly written chapters, pinpointed in location and time, that bounce all over the region. He seems equally interested in adventure, mystery, spiritualism, and history and the symbiotic relationships among them. There’s an interview with the elderly Dalai Lama—who’d appeared as a young man much earlier—as well as visits to the Royal Palace in Nepal, a suspicious suicide, and numerous revelations from Quinn, some mystical, some related to past crimes. Farthing presents colorful bits of tapestry and trusts the reader to assemble them and locate the nexus between the physical world and the metaphysical. An extensive glossary, cast of characters, and maps are welcome aids.
An ambitious, stylishly written, thought-provoking tale.