by Barry Hughart
Once again the most incongruous, outrageous, and eccentric pair of sleuths in the realms of fantasy take on a seemingly impenetrable case. Master Li, a scandalous seer who was infinitely wise in the ways of magic -- and infinitely unwise in his consumption of alcohol -- sets out with Number Ten Ox, mostly brawn but with _some_ brain, to solve the mystery of the eight bird cages, the plotting of the corrupt mandarins and the secrets of the eight skilled gentlemen.
It begins with a vampire ghoul interrupting an execution, which leads to a murdered mandarin and the sightings of some very terrible creatures. Master Li and Number Ten Ox begin their journey -- accompanied by the puppet master Yen Shih and his beautiful daughter Yu Lan -- into the heart of bandit territory. Their journey takes them into the realms of early magic, and to a solution that is beautiful, terrifying, and utterly startling.