City of INk

Li Du was prepared to travel anywhere in the world except for one place: home. But to unravel the mystery that surrounds his mentor’s execution, that’s exactly where he must go.

After the events of Jade Dragon Mountain and The White Mirror, Li Du is returned to the painful memories and teeming streets of Beijing. A humble clerkship offers him anonymity and access to the records he needs, but his search for answers buried in the past is interrupted by murder in the present. 

The wife of a local factory owner is found dead, along with a man who appears to have been her lover, and the most likely suspect is the husband. But what Li Du’s superiors at the North Borough Office are willing to accept as a crime of passion strikes Li Du as something more calculated. As past and present intertwine, Li Du’s investigations reveal that many of Beijing’s residents — foreign and Chinese, artisan and official, scholar and soldier — have secrets they would kill to protect. 

When the threats begin, Li Du must decide how much he is willing to sacrifice to discover the truth in a city bent on concealing it, a city where the stroke of a brush on paper can alter the past, change the future, prolong a life, or end one.

★ ...a web of well-crafted plots.
Booklist (starred review)
Elsa Hart’s third mystery is her best ... A compelling read.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
★ 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.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
With an intelligent plot, intriguing characters, and historical depth, this book is a delight!
Historical Novel Society
...richly detailed novel of life and crime in 18th-century China...
Wall Street Journal
First rate... brimming with period detail, the plot increases in complexity with every chapter.
Washington Post
City of Ink is, no exaggeration, a work of art. Elsa Hart has crafted a story that defies genre labels. It’s a mystery, yes, but this is no mere police procedural or political thriller—it’s both and neither. It’s a character-driven personal drama, as the bookish and middle-aged Li Du proves that the bravest heroes don’t have to be muscle-bound action stars—they can also be quiet scholars willing to dare public execution to uncover long-hidden truths. It’s also a meaty historical novel, richly researched and brought so vibrantly to life that 1700s Beijing is a major character in and of itself.
Criminal Element
Highly atmospheric and elegantly appointed, this mystery from Hart (The White Mirror, 2016, etc.) shines brightest in her detective’s sublime cat-and-mouse interrogations.