In Hidden Buddha, Lama Rinzen is reborn into the Hungry Ghost Realm as a doctor at Humboldt Hospital on Colorado's eastern plain. She is here to face the hospital's ghosts so she might learn the realm's lesson while solving the mystery of why so many of Humboldt's patients are disappearing. Rinzen cannot see these ghosts, but nine-year-old patient Claudia tells her they are real and trying to trap Rinzen at Humboldt’s so that she will have to spend this and all future lifetimes in this forsaken place, denying the lama any chance of spiritual enlightenment.
As Rinzen navigates the mysteries of Humboldt Hospital, she questions her own progress, as each decision may help lead her to another level of enlightenment or to an eternity in her current station in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Between classic scenes of deduction, complex layers of truth and reality, and skillful red herrings, Ringel freshens up the tropes of mysteries by showing them to readers through the unique lens of this Buddhist detective. Each person the doctor meets offers more than just a body for a diagnosis or a clue towards a whodunnit. Instead, they reveal lives of joy, pain, and loss to be understood. That goes for the ghosts, too, who are sometimes “the lessons teachers fail to share.”
Ringel has crafted a fine gem of a story, one that’s satisfying as a mystery—his deft narrative sleight-of-hand results in revelations readers won’t see coming—and as something more, especially when, in the final pages, Rinzen’s knowledge is translated into wisdom. Ringel writes, “The informed explain what they know. The enlightened what they question.” Rinzen’s journey from informed to enlightened is one readers open to genre-expanding detective novels will enjoy.
Takeaway: This accomplished mystery finds a Buddhist monk reincarnated, sleuthing, and striving toward enlightenment.
Great for fans of: Eliot Pattison’s Shan series, Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay’s Tenzing Norbu series.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+