While the boom in forensic based fiction and tv doesn't seem to be ebbing at all, I find it a bit surprising that Antonio Garrido's The Corpse Reader is the first book I've come across with Song Ci as the main character. Surely there may be more that have escaped my notice, but I was pretty excited to dive into this one.
Song Ci, or Ci Song as he's called in the book, is known as the father of forensic science. His Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified outlined investigative procedures for examining bodies and included case studies as well (at least one of which is included in Garrido's novel).
Ci Song was a devoted student and lucky enough to work as an assistant to Judge Feng while his family lived in Lin'An. The death of his grandfather brought all of that to an end. Ci and his family relocated to his older brother's house in the country and Ci found himself responsible for helping out with the family land. But when Ci discovers a body in his brother's field, it's the beginning of lots of changes for the boy and his family. Ci faces trial after trial as he makes his way back to Lin'An and becomes a student at the famed Ming Academy where he catches the eye of the emperor and is tasked with solving a particularly gruesome set of murders. The case could mean making a name for himself as the Corpse Reader or it could finally bring about Ci Song's downfall.
It is interesting that The Corpse Reader is inspired by the life of an actual person, but the story is most definitely fiction. (The author does include a bio of the real life Ci Song at the end of the book.)
I did go into The Corpse Reader expecting a full on crime novel. In reality the second half of the book is devoted to one big case. The first half does include plenty of crimes and lots of opportunities for Ci Song to show off his talents, but this portion of the book is focused on Ci Song's journey and the numerous obstacles in his path. (The Ci Song of the book has really crap luck!)
At first, Garrido's tome seems to be something of a door stopper, but in truth the book moves along very quickly. I'd look up after a bit of time reading and discover that a hundred page chunk had gone by in what seemed like a relatively short period or time.
The Corpse Reader was released in Spain in 2011 and won the Zaragoza International Prize for best historical novel in 2012. The new edition is translated by Thomas Bunstead, who has done an impeccable job in my honest opinion: it's really a quite seamless translation.