First published in France and Germany and now making its US debut, SHORE OF PEARLS occurs in a crucial four-year interval in the action of IRON EMPRESS. In the year 671, Magistrate Dee Jen-chieh flees the capital city of Loyang after witnessing the ghastly “trial” of twenty-five scholars accused of fomenting rebellion against the Empress Wu Tse-tien: Their severed heads are impaled atop the iron spikes of a false Buddhist temple, one by one, as “charges” against each are read. Until that moment, Dee had not given up hope that his vanished erstwhile friend and undercover collaborator—the long, tall, enigmatic Tibetan monk-magician Hsueh Huai-i, who’d boasted that no home or palace was so exalted that he could not inveigle his way in—would give Dee a sign: Yes, it’s true that I’ve become the Empress’ lover, that I lie down with her in her bed, but only so that I can bring back the evidence to prove her a murderess. The heads atop the spikes are indeed a sign from Hsueh, but not the one Dee had hoped for. His worst fear is confirmed: Hsueh has “turned,” and the message is eloquent: There is one empty spike, one head missing, Master Dee—yours.


Sensuality and cruelty, barbarism and refinement, the plot teeming with tension, all is in suspense until the end for both the Magistrate and the reader…”

--L’Yonne Republicaine, Paris

Book Two of the T'ang Trilogy


...on a long, sweltering journey south to the tropical port city of Canton. From there, he means to make his way to the prison island of Hainan, also called the Shore of Pearls. Such a lovely name, he thinks, for such a hellish place, where the Empress is fond of exiling “inconvenient” officials, especially those whose suffering brings her the most pleasure—poets, scholars, defenseless elderly men whose soft uncallused hands never held a weapon more lethal than a brush, whose bones never rested on anything rougher than a featherbed. The ill-fated Scholar’s Rebellion sent many such men to the island, and now Dee, afraid for their lives and sanity, is determined to go there, find them, and if he can, bring them home.

 Canton, its seething markets, its throngs of humanity, its babel of languages and with ships putting in from every part of the known world fascinate Dee, but he intends to waste no time in getting to the island. He is instantly thwarted: an entrenched and clannish eunuch bureaucracy that controls access to the island has no intention of allowing him to set foot there; no amount of perfume can mask the redolence of corruption and graft.

Bubonic plague has also arrived in the city, as has a brilliant Persian physician whom Dee befriends, and who becomes his ally. Abu Zeed, who has a theory about rats, fleas and plague, is as eager as Dee to get to the island. The exotic, numberless diseases of the tropics attract the insatiably curious physician like rare orchids. Another Persian befriends Dee—a woman, who causes Dee to put his two wives, miles away in the north, out of his mind and thoughts.

 In distant Loyang, meantime, Hsueh Huai-i is hard at work, in every sense of the word, assisting the Empress in her ultimate ascent: public “miracles” suggest that Wu’s rule is fulfillment of Buddhist prophecy. Soon, Hsueh, on a mission for Wu, materializes in Canton like a phantasm, carrying with him an ornate box, designed by the Empress herself, empty for now, but of a size and shape suitable to transport a human head…

Dee and Abu Zeed conspire, sleuth, collaborate, and against perilous odds and in the midst of a rash of grisly murders of prominent eunuchs in Cantontravel to the fever-infested island. An uprising of prisoners and lepers, an encounter with a bizarre insect-worshipping cult and a harrowing escape from agents of the Empress herself are but a few of the dangers the two elude before they flee the island barely in possession of their lives. And both learn deep and lasting lessons about loyalty and betrayal, and the shifting, overlapping, shape-changing nature of the two.

 “Well known to lovers of detective literature, Judge Dee, popularized by Robert Van Gulik, was in fact an historical figure, a hero whose existence is evidenced in the archives of Chinese history. 

Renowned authors and sinologists  Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri have woven a thriller of the first order which allows the reader to discover seventh-century China: a  universe at once barbaric and refined.”

 --Lilianne Mangavelle

Latest comments

08.03 | 09:51

Checking whether the domment replies have been fixed

12.02 | 19:49

I've always held a special pace in my heart for your the "Court of the Li...

18.11 | 00:53

Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Byrnes. It was indeed a shock, ...

14.11 | 14:10

Terrible shocking news. R I P, Mr. Altieri. Condolences to Mrs. Altieri , yo...