el lector de cadaveres [book review]

lelecteur-decadavres El lector de cadaveres (the corpse reader) by Antonio Garrido (from Valencià) is an historical novel I picked before departing to Japan as the cover reminded me of van Gulik’s Judge Dee which I very enjoy9788467013849ed (until a terrible movie came out!). Although van Gulik apparently took the idea from a 18th-century Chinese detective crime novel Di Gong An. Anyway, this seemed like a good travel book, although heavy in my hiking backpack. After reading it mostly in the trains, I am not so convinced that it was a great idea! The story stemmed from the author attending a legal medecine conference in Mumbai and hearing of a 13th century Chinese medical expert who could be the very first forensic doctor. The book builds upon this historical character, romancing his early life from destitute to becoming the legal medicine expert of the Song emperor. There are a lot of similarities with Judge Dee in that the meritocratic structure of the Chinese government is central to the central character joining the academy and postulating for the imperial examinations. That the underworld is never far from the ruling classes. That superstition is also a permanent feature in everyday’s life. That cruelty is a part of justice as well as an intricate legal code. And that confucianism is strictly ruling the society, from top to bottom. The historical part is rather nice, with a higher degree of details and apparent authenticity than van Gulik’s. This shows the research undertaken by the author was quite fruitful. The plot however is terrible, with Song Ci falling in every possible trap, trusting every villain in the vicinity and shooting himself in the foot at every occasion. The story goes from one disaster to the next, Ci being only saved by a last minute benevolent passerby. His brilliance as a forensic officer is hard to explain when considering the stupidity he demonstrates all along, while the novel involves several others who also work on the medical analysis of corpses for the courts. A very lengthy suspension of belief!

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