A fast-paced, engaging novel of suspense and intrigue where secret desires, ambitions, and a long-forgotten mystery come together on a historical journey through Europe and Asia. Lucas Vascones is a Chilean who has lived in Shanghai for many years. One afternoon he receives a call that jerks him out of his routine: his old martial arts master has died, and his funeral will be held in Kunming, in southern China. Lucas decides to attend, though with some reservations: ten years earlier, a dispute with Tang brought their relationship to an abrupt and definitive end.
At the funeral, Master Tang’s widow approaches Lucas and asks him to write her husband’s posthumous biography. Alfred Tang had been a celebrity in martial arts circles: after starring in a number of martial arts films, he went on to build an international empire of prestigious martial arts academies. At first, Lucas tries to evade the proposal but ultimately accepts, prompted by his curiosity as well as his own secret dream of becoming a writer. Mrs. Tang hands him a set of boxes filled with material so that he can start his research. In one of the boxes Lucas finds a journal filled with notes, a tiny picture of the sixteenth-century Italian missionary Mateo Ricci, and a beautiful drawing of a library with books in all different colors.
Bewildered by the discovery, Lucas enlists help from Tang’s daughter, who connects him to an old friend of her father’s, a university professor by the name of Yan. Lucas meets with Professor Yang, who tells him about the black tulips, a collection of books that had once belonged to the sixteenth century Jesuit missionary Mateo Ricci, who was born in Italy but lived and died in China. The professor fills him in on several details, most interestingly the name of the last known owner of the “black tulip” book collection, a businessman from southern China. Professor Yang also shows Lucas some old film footage from the 1950s featuring a young Alfred Tang practicing the cha-cha-cha with a beautiful, exotic woman by the name of Vicky Cifuentes. The professor tells Lucas that if he wishes to find the collection and learn more about Alfred Tang, he must call on the beautiful Vicky. To Lucas’ surprise she is still alive, living in Hong Kong. Lucas decides to visit her, and this short trip becomes the first step on a series of unforgettable events that will lead him through Asia and Europe, where his life will change in the quest to uncover the truth – about the books, about his martial arts master, and about history itself.