Saturday, May 16, 2009


By Robert van Gulik

Robert van Gulik is the translator of Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. He found such a warm reception for a two-hundred year-old Chinese detective novel that he began to write new tales of Judge Dee.

The Chinese Gold Murders is situated in the early days of Dee’s service as a magistrate (c AD 690). The good judge takes up a post in a provincial town. The judge’s predecessor is literally a predecessor. The judge has to get to the bottom of the last judge’s death before he joins him. Along the way there are encounters with highwaymen, smugglers, Korean exiles, ghosts, and mysterious priests.

The Emperor’s Pearl is similarly fast-paced fare. At the height of the Dragon Boat races, a drummer drops dead. Dee is plunged into an investigation of the man’s death. It is somehow linked to a centuries-old theft from the imperial household itself. There is also a marvelous supporting character in the form of a Mongolian lady-wrestler (I am not making this up).

Van Gulik was an expert on Chinese culture. His books are a marvelous exploration of Medieval China without any tedious lecturing. Van Gulik also has an eye for fantasy. While there are no flying swordsman action-heroes in the Judge Dee mysteries, the supernatural is never far away. Van Gulik’s Judge Dee mysteries are highly entertaining, with superb settings and engaging characters.

-Dave Hardy

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