Plot: Autumn 668, Poo-Yang (on the Grand Canal in Kiangsu). Judge Dee has just taken up his new post as magistrate of this prosperous town, and is soon deeply involved in three cases at the same time: the rape murder in Half Moon Street; the secret of the Buddhist Temple; and the mysterious skeleton. Solving one of these cases comes close to disturbing his family's harmonious atmosphere, and touches on Imperial Policy...
My opinion: this story, published in 1958, is actually the first of van Gulik's books to be pubished in England - and it is a right cracker! It is very atmospheric, the personalities are engaging (or abhorrent, in some), and the Judge and his four henchmen are real people, to some of his fans! While the story plays in 668, the illustrations and story really represent the 16th Century in China; as was the custom among Chinese Ming writers.
I am a great admirer of the Judge Dee stories, and have read all of them several times over. This pleasure doesn't pall, and I would compare it to reading Sherlock Holmes, or Maigret; plus the additional pleasure of being immersed in old China.
This is the second Judge Dee story written by van Gulik, but (confusingly) the eighth chronologically; luckily, you can read these books in any sequence! You can tell he was still getting into his stride (van Gulik, that is) but the plot is a real cracker, intricate, tense and fascinating.