After his grandfather dies, avid scholar and budding forensic investigator Cí Song begrudgingly gives up his studies to help his family. But when another tragedy strikes, he’s forced to run and is also deemed a fugitive.
Dishonored, he has no choice but to accept work as a lowly gravedigger, a position that allows him to sharpen his corpse-reading skills. Soon, he can deduce whether a person killed himself—or was murdered.
His prowess earns him notoriety, and Cí receives orders to unearth the perpetrator of a horrific series of mutilations and deaths at the Imperial Court. Cí’s gruesome investigation quickly grows complicated thanks to old loyalties and the presence of an alluring, enigmatic woman. But he remains driven by his passion for truth—especially once the killings threaten to take down the Emperor himself.
Inspired by Song Cí, considered to be the founding father of CSI-style forensic science, this harrowing novel set during the thirteenth-century Song Dynasty draws readers into a multilayered, ingenious plot as disturbing as it is fascinating.
Here is an excerpt from the book. Enjoy!!
Here is an excerpt from the book. Enjoy!!
Judge Feng was needed to help interrogate some of the village residents, so he and Cí agreed to meet again after lunch. Cí wanted to visit Cherry, but he needed his father’s permission if he was going to miss work.
Before he went into the house, Cí commended himself to the gods and then entered without knocking. Startled by Cí’s return, his father dropped some documents, which he quickly gathered from the fl oor and put in a red lacquer chest.
“Shouldn’t you be out plowing?” he asked angrily, shoving the chest under a bed.
Cí said he wanted to visit Cherry, but his father wouldn’t hear of it.
“You’re always putting pleasure before duty.”
“She’ll be fi ne. I have no idea why I let your mother talk me into letting you two get engaged. That girl’s worse than a wasp.”
Cí cleared his throat. “Please, father. I’ll be quick. Afterward, I’ll finish the plowing and help Lu with the reaping.”
“Afterward? Perhaps you think Lu goes out in the fields for a nice stroll. Even the buffalo is a more willing worker than you. When is afterward, exactly?”
What’s going on? Why is he being so tough on me?
Cí didn’t want to argue. Everyone, including his father, knew full well that Cí had worked tirelessly the last few months sowing rice and tending to the saplings; that his hands had become callused reaping, threshing, and panning; that he had plowed from sunup to sundown, leveled the soil, transported and spread the fertilizer, pedaled the pumps, and hauled the sacks of produce to the river barges. While Lu was off getting drunk with his prostitutes, Cí was killing himself in the fields.
In a way he hated having a conscience; it meant he had to accept his father’s decisions. He went to find his sickle and his bundle, but the sickle wasn’t there.
“Use mine,” said his father. “Lu took yours.”
Suddenly there was a flash of lightning and an earth-shuddering boom. The buffalo cowered and tried to leap away again, but the plow held fast in the ground, making the animal fall on its hindquarters.
The buffalo was flailing in the water now, trying to get to its feet. Cí heaved but failed to help it up. He loosened the harness and hit the beast a couple of times, but it only raised its forehead out of the water as it tried to escape the punishment. Then Cí saw the terrible open fracture in its hindquarters.
Dear gods, what have I done to offend you?
Cí approached the buffalo with an apple, but it tried to gore him with its horns. It tired itself out writhing and bellowing, and rested its head to one side for a moment, dipping a horn in the mud. Looking in its panic-stricken eyes, Cí sensed it was trying to convey that it wanted to escape its crippled body. Snot streamed from its huffing nostrils. It was as good as meat for the slaughterhouse.
Cí was stroking its muzzle when he was grabbed from behind and pushed into the water. Lu, brandishing a staff, stood over him in a rage.
“Wretch! This is how you repay me?”
Cí tried to protect himself as the stick came down on his face.
“Get up.” Lu hit him again. “Time for a lesson.”
Cí tried to get up, but again Lu struck him, then grabbed him by the hair.
“Know how much a buffalo costs? No? Time for you to learn.”
Lu thrust Cí’s head underwater. Once Cí had flailed for a bit, Lu yanked him up and pushed him under the harness.
“No!” cried Cí.
“Don’t like working in the fields, eh?” He was trying to tie Cí into the harness. “You hate that Father loves me best.”
“Hardly! Even though you’re a bootlicker!”
“What?” roared Lu. “You’ll be the one licking boots when I finish with you.”
Wiping away blood from his cheek, Cí looked hatefully at his brother. Custom dictated that he not fight back. But it was time to show Lu he wasn’t his slave. Cí got up and punched Lu in the gut as hard as he could. Lu, not expecting the blow, was winded for a moment, but his return punch knocked Cí to the ground. Cí had years of pent-up hate, but Lu was bigger and a much better fighter. When Cí got up, Lu knocked him down again. Cí felt something crack in his chest, but he wasn’t in pain. Then another blow, this time in the gut. Still on the ground, he took another blow. He couldn’t get up. He felt the rain on his face. He thought he heard Lu shouting at him, but then he lost consciousness.