Judge Dee

The Chinese Nail Murders
The Chinese Gold Murders

Robert van Gulik

The University of Chicago Press 1977, Penguin 1962
A book review by Danny Yee © 1995 http://dannyreviews.com/
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.

December 1995

Related reviews:
- books about China + Chinese history
- more historical mystery
- books published by The University of Chicago Press
%T The Chinese Nail Murders
%Y Judge Dee
%A van Gulik, Robert
%I The University of Chicago Press
%D 1977 [1961]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0226848639
%P 209pp