Judge Dee was a real Tang dynasty magistrate, but Gulik's novels are based
on stories about him from the Ming period. Taking the setting and plots
(and some of the literary conventions) from these stories and from other
Chinese texts, and modifying them to suit Western tastes, he has created
one of the more engaging detectives it has been my pleasure to encounter.
Although enjoyable purely for their puzzle-solving element, what appeals
most about the stories are their satisfyingly detailed and convincing
settings: good historical novels set in China are relatively rare, so
it is great that someone as knowledgeable as Gulik has turned his hand
to the genre. Each novel has a short postscript explaining the sources
used and some of the cultural background.
The Chinese Gold Murders is set at the beginning of Judge Dee's career
as a district magistrate (an official responsible for catching criminals
as well as sentencing them). In The Chinese Nail Murders he handles
his last case as district magistrate; his investigation arouses intense
popular unrest and he has to risk dismissal and punishment to bring it to
a successful conclusion. There are more than a dozen Judge Dee novels
altogether and I am eager to read the others — sufficiently eager that
I may buy them rather than waiting to see if I can obtain review copies.
- Related reviews:
- books about China + Chinese history
- more historical mystery
- books published by The University of Chicago Press