The master of historical detective-type fiction - set in Medieval China. Van Gulik's period research seems authentic to me, within the constraints of his spartan style. The judge and his faithful henchmen are great characters, and the stories are always thrilling.
Van Gulik's versions of Ming Dynasty tales of Tang Dynasty legal venerables are charming and compulsive reading. But why do they cost so much on Kindle and why aren't all the books available in that handy form? Judge Dee is an engaging protagonist so bite the bullet and pay the inexplicable extra. We are reading descriptions of Ming rather than Tang China, as was the case with the original Chinese models, but for those of us who hardly know the difference it is quite fascinating. No lawyers, no jury, torture was permitted and prisoners had to confess, yet justice appears largely to have prevailed as the enduring legends of Die Renjie would testify. Van Gulik's versions are written to be accessible to a Western audience and I plan, eventually, to read them all. I am spreading it out over time to prolong the pleasure.
Read his books many years ago in book form.These stories are well put together and keep you interested till the very end. I woud recommend them to anyone who would like to read a mystery that's a bit different but still just as spellbinding
This is a good read, as Judge Dee stories always are. This one is set in Lan-fan, in the far west of China, where China merges into the steppes of Central Asia. An exotic setting! The reader will encounter the usual plethora of deftly drawn characters. There are some excellent dramatic episodes and scenes. Van Gulik was at the height of his powers when he wrote this. At close to 300 pages, it is one of his longer novels
Having successfully translated and had published a 400 year-old Chinese detective story, highly respected diplomat, linguist, and sinologist Robert van Gulik searched in vain for a successor. The problem was that none of the surviving Chinese detective manuscripts were really suitable for modern Oriental or Western readers. So van Gulik decided to write a detective story himself, but based on plots from the ancient Chinese manuscripts. Planning more than one novel, he decided to have as 'his detective' the celebrated, and real, Tang magistrate Judge Dee, who lived from 630-700 A.D. With great skill the author wove a coherent fictional tale around the judge and his assistants, located in a fictional city, using fictional Chinese plots created hundreds of years ago. The first book in the Dee series, The Chinese Maze Murders features several grisly murders, a locked room mystery, and a very authentic sub-plot of treason involving a local warlord, and Turkic barbarian invaders. Probably the most grisly aspect of the novel, however, is the detailed description of ancient Chinese punishment of the evil-doer. Setting the standard for all his subsequent novels, van Gulik includes a detailed historical context and the whole is couched in a seemingly very realistic portrayal of every aspect of period China. To avoid the novel seeming like a history lesson, van Gulik gives his characters dialogue appropriate to the time of publication without at all detracting from the period feel of the book. If you enjoy a good read you will enjoy this - if you have the slightest interest in ancient China - you will love it!
The book: Judge Dee and his team are moved to a new area: Lan-fang on the NW border, and with a strong Uigur population. When they arrive the tribunal is almost derilict, as a local tyrant runs the town for profit. While trying to deal with this predicament, the Judge is also confonted with the murder (in a locked room, of course) of a retired General; with a family feud over a testament, with clues in a painting; and with a missing girl. And the Uigur threat is increasing...
The writer: Robert van Gulik was an Orientalist and diplomat; he wrote this book in 1956 (but in the internal chronology of the series it falls between Poets and Murder, and the Phantom of the Temple). His wife, Shui Shifang, was the daughter of a former Imperial Mandarin. He wrote the Judge Dee stories (based on the historical Dee Jen-djieh, 630-700) because he felt that there was not enough Eastern detective fiction; and also to amuse himself!
My opinion: I love these books because of their wonderful atmosphere, underpinned by a deep knowledge by the writer of both the history of the country and its literature. This is the very first Judge Dee story van Gulik wrote (in fact it was published in Japanese in 1951 and in Chinese in 1953), and it is a very good one. Atmospheric, full of good detective work and puzzles, tense and mysterious. Re-readable, too - I think this has been my fifth read, and I'm keeping it for more! Great books.