It’s that time of year again where people are looking for recommendations on what to read while they’re going on vacation, lounging by the pool, laying out at the beach, or just generally relaxing. Well, look no further. Throughout the summer, I’ll be offering up books ideas for all of you.
Up first is The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido. Originally written in Spanish, The Corpse Reader has been translated in English just in time for beach reads. The story takes place during the era of The Song Dynasty and centers around Song Ci and reimagines him as almost a CSI-like character. While the novel’s foundation is historical, Garrido adds a bit of intrigue to his story as he is charged to solve a series of murders plaguing the kingdom. If you like murder mysteries, thrillers, or historical fiction, The Corpse Reader is for you.
See below for an excerpt of the novel!
Excerpted from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido
Copyright 2013. Published By AmazonCrossing.
The fortune-teller had quite a setup. On a table behind the stage lay a huge assortment of knickknacks and trinkets: old turtle shells used for fortune-telling, badly painted clay Buddhas, cheap paper fans, kites, rings, belts, sandals, incense, old coins, lanterns, spiders, and snake skeletons. It looked to Cí as if someone had spilled a bag of the strangest trash on the table and was trying to sell it off. But he couldn’t imagine the pile of junk was what was attracting the crowd.
As Cí came a little closer, it became clear.
The fortune-teller had set up a cricket race: a table with a maze of concentric marks on it, and six channels, each painted a different color, each ending at the mound of sugar in the center of the table. Bets were being laid on which of the crickets would reach the center first. The citizens of Lin’an loved to bet.
Cí pushed his way to the front just as the fortune-teller was announcing the last chance to bet, egging on the crowd.
“Come on! Money to be won! Your chance to escape your misery and your poverty! Win, imagine it, and you’ll have so much money you can marry the woman of your dreams—or go out whoring instead!”
The mention of flesh prompted a few more bets. The crickets waited in their boxes, each daubed on the back with paint matching the colors of the channels.
“Is that it? No one else has the balls to challenge me? Bunch of cowards! Afraid of my old cricket? Fine…I’m feeling crazy today!” The fortune-teller picked up his cricket, which was marked with yellow paint, and pulled off one of its front legs. Then he put the insect down in the labyrinth so everyone could see it stumble around. “What about now?” he cried.
A few people found this to be sufficient proof that the fortune-teller had in fact lost his mind, and they raised their bets. He knew it was a bad idea, but Cí was also seriously considering betting. All he could think about was getting enough money for Third’s medicine.
The bets were about to close when Cí slammed his money down.
“A hundred qián! Eight to one.”
And may fortune protect me.
“Betting closed! Stand away!”
The fortune-teller placed the six crickets at their respective gates and checked to make sure the silk netting that prevented the insects from hopping away was secure.
“Ready?” asked the fortune-teller.
“Ready yourself?” echoed one man. “My red cricket’s going to destroy yours.”
The fortune-teller struck a gong and lifted the gates. The crickets hurried into their respective channels—all except the yellow one, which tottered feebly forward. Soon the men were roaring with excitement, growing even louder if one of their crickets stopped. The red cricket was doing well, charging ahead of the others, but then, barely a hand’s length from the finishing line, it stopped. The men fell silent. The insect hesitated, as if some invisible obstacle had sprung up in front of it. Then, in spite of its owner’s cries, it went back the way it had come. At the same time, the fortune-teller’s cricket was miraculously scurrying forward at top speed.
The shouting became deafening again. The yellow cricket caught up, but then also stopped, wavering, as if unsure. And just when the blue cricket, whose owner was a giant of a man and was shouting louder than anybody, looked as though it had taken the lead, the yellow one shot forward, overtaking the blue at the last possible instant.
No one could believe it. It seemed like the devil’s work. They were all rubbing their eyes when the giant turned to the fortune-teller.
“Cheating bastard!” he roared.
But the fortune-teller wasn’t flustered. Moving the silk net aside, he picked up his cricket and held it out for all to see: its front left leg definitely was not there. In a rage, the giant knocked the insect from the fortune-teller’s hand and stomped on it. He spat and, before turning to leave, promised the fortune-teller he’d be back. The rest, grumbling, gathered up their insects and followed the giant away.
Cí went nowhere. He urgently needed that money, and he couldn’t see how the fortune-teller had won without some kind of trick. It also struck him as strange that the man didn’t seem to care that the cricket was dead, even though it had just made him all that money.
“You can get out of here as well,” said the fortune-teller.
Cí ignored him and crouched down to examine the squashed remains of the cricket. Using a fingernail, he dislodged some bright plating still attached to the abdomen. It looked like a sliver of iron or a similar metal. And he found traces of glue on the underside. What could it have been for? Wouldn’t it just weigh the creature down and make it go slower?
He was astonished when the dead insect suddenly flew from his palm and attached itself to the knife at his belt. Suddenly it all made sense…
By now the fortune-teller had gathered up his things and wandered off in the direction of a nearby tavern. Cí carefully placed the insect’s remains in a cloth and headed after him.
There was a boy at the door to the Five Pleasures Tavern looking after the fortune-teller’s folded-up betting table. Cí asked him how much he was being paid, and the boy held out two pieces of candy.
“I’ll give you this apple if you let me look at that table.”
The boy thought for a moment.
“OK. But only to look.”
Cí gave him the apple, which one of the men had dropped at the bet, and opened the table.
“I said don’t touch,” said the boy.
“I need to look at the underside.”
“I’ll tell him—”
“Eat your apple and shut up, will you?”
Cí opened and shut the channel gates, sniffed the channels, and looked closely at the underside, pulling out a small sheet of metal about the size of a biscuit, which he hid in his sleeve. Putting the table back as it had been, he nodded to the boy and entered the Five Pleasures Tavern. He had everything he needed to get his money back.
Though Cí didn’t see the fortune-teller when he first walked into the tavern, a couple of prostitutes were whispering excitedly about a man throwing money around. Cí followed their glances to the curtains at the back of the room.
He took a moment to consider his approach. The tavern was a dive like all the others near the gates—thick with greasy smoke and customers eating plates of boiled pig meat, Cantonese sauces, and Zhe fish soups. The smell of the food mingled with the stink and sweat of the fishermen, dockers, and sailors who were celebrating the end of the week as though it were their last day on earth—drinking, swinging, and swaying to the rhythm of flutes and zithers.
On the far side of the bar, on a makeshift stage, a group of “flowers” sang melodies that were barely audible over the din and tried to catch the eye of their next customer. One of them came over to Cí and made a show of concern over his wounded leg before she began rubbing her flabby rump up against his crotch. Cí pushed her away. He marched to the back of the tavern, parted the curtains, and there was the fortune-teller, shaking his pale ass over a young girl. He was clearly surprised to see Cí but seemed unbothered. He smiled foolishly, showing his rotten teeth, and then carried on. Doubtless he was drunk.
“Having fun with my money?” Cí asked. He shoved the old man, and the girl grabbed her clothes and scurried out.
“What on earth?” said the fortune-teller.
Before the old man could get to his feet, Cí grabbed him by the shirt.
“You’re going to pay me back, right down to the last coin! And I mean now!”
He was about to start rummaging through the fortune-teller’s purse when he was picked up, dragged out of the cubicle, and thrown against some tables in the middle of the dining area. The music stopped.
“No bothering the customers!” roared the manager.
The man was as big as a mountain; his arms appeared to be thicker than his legs, and he had the look of an enraged buffalo. Before Cí could respond, the manager punched him in the ribs.
“He’s a cheat!” Cí managed to say. “He swindled me!”
“As long as he pays his way when he’s in here, I don’t care.”
“Leave him. He’s just a kid,” said the fortune-teller, coming out from behind the curtain as he buttoned his pants. He looked down at Cí. “You get out of here before you really get hurt.”
Cí struggled to his feet. The wound in his leg had started to bleed again.
“I’ll go,” he said grimly, “when you’ve given me back my money.”
“Don’t be stupid. Do you really want your head cracked open?”
“I know how you do it. I inspected your maze.”
A flicker of worry crossed the fortune-teller’s face.
“Hee-hee, I see. Come now, have a seat. Tell me what you mean.”
Cí pulled out the sliver of metal he’d found attached to the cricket and threw it on the table.
“All I know is you must have lost your mind,” said the fortune-teller, but he was staring at the metal all the same.
“Fine,” said Cí, taking out the biscuit-size metal sheet and placing it under the table. “Watch and learn, since this is all new to you.”
When he moved the sheet beneath the table, suddenly, as if propelled by an invisible hand, the sliver began moving around, too. The fortune-teller shifted uncomfortably on his stool.
“Magnets,” announced Cí. “Not to mention the camphor repellent at the ends of the other crickets’ channels! Or—what else?—the trapdoor where the first cricket disappeared and the second cricket, the one with the metal sliver attached, was released? But you don’t really need me to explain all this, do you?”
“What do you want?” whispered the fortune-teller.
“My eight hundred qián—which I would have won from the bet.”
“Ha! You should have figured this out a lot earlier. Now get out.”
“Not till I have my money.”
“Listen, kid, you’re sharp, I’ll give you that, but you’re starting to bore me. Zhao!” He called the manager over. “Give him a bowl of rice and show him out.”
But Cí wasn’t giving up that easily.
“My money,” he growled.
“Enough!” said the manager.
“No,” a voice behind them boomed, “it isn’t enough!” Everyone in the tavern turned to see who it was.
A man stood in the middle of the dining area. It was the giant, the owner of the blue cricket that had nearly beaten the fortune-teller’s yellow one. The fortune-teller looked terrified as the man, who was even bigger than the manager, strode purposefully over, pushing people aside. The manager stepped forward, and the giant took him down with one punch. Then the giant grabbed the fortune-teller by the neck, and Cí, too.
“Now,” he growled, “let’s hear this little story about magnets one more time.”
Cí hated swindlers, but he hated violent people even more. Moreover, this man seemed perfectly prepared to take his money.
“This is between us,” said Cí obstinately, even though the giant had him by the neck.
“The devil with both of you!” said the giant, flinging them against an old lattice screen, which broke into pieces.
As Cí struggled to his feet, the giant got astride the fortune-teller and began choking him. Cí leapt on the giant and punched him in the back, but it was like punching a brick wall. The giant threw him back toward the screen. Cí tasted blood on his lips.
The other patrons gathered around, eager for a fight. They started laying bets.
“Hundred-to-one odds on the giant,” announced a young man who appointed himself deposit taker.
“Put me down for two hundred!”
“Two thousand if he kills him!”
Cí knew that none of these wolves would help him; his life was in serious danger, and running wasn’t an option. Aside from his injured calf, he was surrounded, and the giant was on his feet, looking down at Cí as if he were a cockroach there to be stomped on. The giant spat on his hands and encouraged the crowd. Suddenly, Third popped into Cí’s mind, and he decided what to do.
“Well,” said Cí, “it won’t be the first time I’ve smacked a woman down.”
“What?” roared the giant. He swiped at Cí, who managed to hop out of the way, causing the giant to stumble.
“I’ll bet you’re more girl than man.”
“I’m going to rip out your guts and feed them to you!” Again the giant swiped at Cí, and again Cí dodged him.
“You’re worried about an injured man beating you. Bring us some knives!” Cí shouted.
“It’s your own grave you’re digging!” the giant sputtered as he grabbed someone’s gourd of liquor and downed it. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he brandished one of the knives that had been brought from the kitchen.
Cí checked his. It was razor sharp.
“What about a bet on the little guy?” called the boy taking bets. “Come on! I have to cover the bets. He moves quick…he might survive one attack.”
Laughter went around.
“I’ll bet on me,” said Cí, to everyone’s amazement. “Eight hundred qián!” he said, staring directly at the fortune-teller.
The fortune-teller looked amazed, too. But after a moment, he nodded his assent. He rooted around for the money, and gave it to the taker.
“Fine,” said the deposit holder. “Anyone else? No? OK…Strip to the waist and get ready to fight!”
The giant smirked, then winked and bragged to someone in the crowd about how he was going to crush Cí. He dramatically removed his robes, revealing an alarmingly muscular torso, and then took a bowl of oil and poured it over his chest for greater effect.
“Shit yourself, have you?” said the giant.
Cí didn’t answer. With a ritual air, he placed his belongings in a neat pile. Knowing what he was about to do, he emanated calm. He took off his five-button tunic, and there—from waist to neck and all along his arms—was the thick tangle of scars for all to see. Proof of some atrocity. A stupefied murmur went around. Even the giant looked stunned.
“Ready!” said the taker, and a roar went up.
“Before we start,” yelled Cí, and the noise died down, “I want to offer this man the chance to save his life.”
“Save it for the grave!” said the giant.
“You’d be better off listening,” he said. “Or do you think someone with these scars would be easy to kill? I take no pleasure in executing my opponents. How about the Dragon Challenge instead?”
The giant blinked. The Dragon Challenge would put them on more even footing, but not many people dared take it on: it required having a pattern cut into oneself with a knife. The cut had to be both deep and long. And the first to cry out was the loser.
“I’ll do mine right over my heart,” said Cí, hoping to get the crowd on his side.
“You must think I’m stupid! Why would I want to be cut when I can crush you without suffering a single scratch?”
“Yes, yes—I don’t blame you.” Turning to the crowd, Cí raised his voice. “I’ve come across plenty of cowards just like you before!”
The giant could see from the people’s expressions what was at stake. If he turned down the challenge, his manliness would be in doubt.
“Fine, shrimp. But you’re gonna be swallowing your words along with your teeth.”
It was the bravado Cí had expected.
Another cheer went up.
Cí set out the rules: “The cuts start at the nipple, trace the outside in loops, carry on outward, going deeper all the time. We only stop when one of us cries out.”
“Agreed,” said the giant. “On one condition.” He looked at each person in the crowd, savoring the moment.
“Whoever wins gets to sink his knife into the other’s heart.”
Excerpted from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido, Copyright 2013. Published By AmazonCrossing.