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Eight short stories: five auspicous clouds, the red tape murder, He came with the rain (663, Peng-lai); Murder on the lotus pond (Han-yuan, 667); The two beggars, the wrong sword (Poo-yang, 669); The coffin of the emperor, murder on New Year's eve (Lan-fang, 672-674). AND a chronolgy of the Judge's life, career, and stories from fifteen novels and eight short stories (These); the only ones missing, because they were written later, are Necklace and calabash (669, Poo-yang) and Poets and murder (670, Poo-yang).
And the stories themselves? They're short, yes, but they still show our favourite judge in his proper pastime, solving crimes. I would say I prefer the longer novels, as there is more room for confusion and plot twists; but even in the short ones like these van Gulik manages to get the atmosphere just right. These books are great, a pleasure to re-read every couple of years, and a lasting pleasure - I have been reading them for forty years now, and that pleasure increases rather than diminishes! Long live the judge, even if he died in 700, having reached the rank of Lord Chief Justice.
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on 11 March 2013
The eight short stories in this book cover most of the career of Judge Dee - Robert van Gulik's Chinese detective - a magistrate from the Tang era. As such, they are a good introduction to the character for those unfamiliar with this excellent series of books. Although the stories are fictional, Judge Dee was a celebrated historical figure, living from 630-700 with a Civil Service career taking him from local magistrate to the upper strata of Imperial China. Van Gulik was a highly respected, and well-travelled, linguist and career diplomat; he was also one of the most prominent sinologists of his generation. His Judge Dee books ooze an easy authenticity, with strong characterisation, powerful scene-setting and a confident assurance that this is how Imperial China really was.

In common with the novels, van Gulik includes in this book his own simple line illustrations, and a historical context - to demonstrate that he really knows what he is talking about! He also includes a chronological timeline for all his Judge Dee books (apart from the two published after this one), so that you can read them in the order in which they "happened". Although this is not really necessary, I find it does aid in understanding the development of the character and, in my case, enhances interest in the historical/social aspects of the stories. Van Gulik's style is different from any other writer of detective fiction. These are not really puzzles - with red herrings and mis-direction - but fascinating journeys through the social substrata of ancient China seen through the eyes of an intelligent, highly educated, cultured, and powerful figure of authority - more a succession of the more interesting days "in the life of Judge Dee." Dee's Confucian education does not allow sloppiness, idleness, or unprofessionalism. At the same time he has a solid awareness of human frailties without being cynical. Since he cannot pass sentence unless the guilty party confesses, there is a lot of subterfuge and threats needed to extract a confession. Dee is tough, an excellent swordsman, and, although he lives in a highly elitist society, firmly believes it is his duty to see that everyone gets their rights under the law. Also, although Imperial law does not always specify equal punishment for the same crime for all levels of society, Dee has a tendency to level the playing field, given the opportunity. Trials are conducted in public, as is much of the investigative questioning - including confessions extracted under torture (rarely used by Dee) - so justice is very much seen to be done.

In all, hugely entertaining and informative reading. Not the best of van Gulik, but up there with them. My favourite in this collection is The Coffins of the Emperor - set during a savage winter when the Empire was mired in one of its endless wars against barbarian incursion. Dee cleverly identifies an enemy agent and solves a year-old murder mystery. The Marshall of the Tang Western Army is a wonderful character - a sort of Chinese Patton!
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on 4 April 2009
Judge Dee is loosely based on an actual historical ancient Chinese figure, wonderfully brought to life by Gulik. As Gulik was an avid sinologist as well as diplomat and writer, he is uniquely poised to present us with every-day life in ancient China. It is this detailed knowledge of Chinese history that permeates his stories and gives them their unique flavour.

Ever since I first discovered Judge Dee, I have managed to buy all of Gulik's Judge Dee books; this was in fact my last acquisition, and I found it to be a fitting finale to my collection. The stories are written in the familiar Gulig way, with the Judge solving his mysteries using his uncanny powers of observation and deduction, much like a modern sleuth would. However, adding to the mix Gulig's effortlessly convincing representation of ancient China and his easily-read prose, makes this another great Judge Dee book.

Highly recommended to anyone, whether a Judge Dee novice or a fan.
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on 14 August 2011
Having watched the Andy Lau film detective Dee i decided to give the books a go and started with Judge Dee at Work. I have been won over by this simple and easy to follow book which gave an insight as to the true character of Dee was. The eight stories were easy to follow and not the most challenging but still i found i couldn't put the book down until i finished it.
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on 10 May 2012
This is a volume of eight short stories. They are set in various periods of the Judge's career, in Peng-lai, Han-yuan, and Lan-fang.

The impression I was left with, is that the short story is too short a form, for van Gulik's creative spirit to work with. Nonetheless, the stories are deftly told, and there are some well written scenes.

The Judge's two wives appear in "He came with the rains". "Red Tape Murders" deals with a military murder. "The murder on the lotus pond" deals with the murder of an elderly poet. "The two beggars" describes why the Judge was late for his dinner, on the Feast of Lanterns. "The Coffins of the Emperor" is set in winter, during a troubled period of China's history. The two others, are "Five auspicious clouds" and "Murder on New Year's Eve"
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on 24 January 2014
The excellent Judge Dee mysteries are usually a number of concurrent or interwoven narratives in each of the previous books, but these are individual gems that demonstrate Robert van Gulik was master of the short story too. The tales here abound with the novel - weighing imperial sarcophagi on water to ascertain if a crime has been committed - to the cheekily mundane, in the Chinese New Year's Eve story. Judge Dee, ever honourable and implacable in his pursuit of crime, solves puzzles and conundrums with a somewhat melancholic humour whilst his more boisterous lieutenants aid and abet. A pot of green tea is, of course, mandatory whilst reading...
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on 19 May 2015
Judge Dee is a judge and detective in Ancient China. With his assistants he acts as a complete police force and does it with compassion, wit, firmness and intelligence. He and his assistants are well depicted and I, as a reader became very fond of them all. A window into a fascinating ancient world where the crimes of today we're not absent, murder theft, adultery. So what's new? Very enjoyable if you like historical detectives. Try this one and you might get hooked.
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on 27 June 2012
This is a treat for Judge Dee fans. I had not come across this volume beforse. It is a delight for lovers of the genre. An additional treat is the chronology at the end of this volume, now you can tell your Poo-yang from your Pei-chow or Lan-fang. A brilliant read.
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on 25 December 2013
This book is made up of short stories.
All of his novels are highly recommended
One of the men's wives has been found hanged.
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on 27 December 2013
Purchased as a gift for my wife - I have nothing more to say about it so why should I?
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