Sunday, October 31, 2010


Translated by Robert van Gulik

Long before Jessica Fletcher opened up the Cabots Cove branch of the Pinkertons, the Chinese developed the detective novel to a high degree. But like pasta, gunpowder, and sea borne voyages of trade and conquest, they decided it was overrated and left it to the uncivilized monkey people of the European littoral. Back in WWII Robert van Gulik took a break from his war duties and translated a Chinese detective novel. It was the Dee Goong An, a fictionalized account of crime fighting by a historical jurist of 8th century China.

Other than a predilection for tea, Judge Dee doesn’t have too much in common with Miss Marple. For one it’s his JOB to solve crimes. He is a District Magistrate, a post that combined detailed local oversight with high rank in T’ang China. For two he has a squad of cops and ex-cons to do his legwork. Not that Dee needs them, he is a man of most acute faculties. When all else fails he can also torture the bejeezus out of the prime suspect.

It all adds up to a delightfully fresh take on the crime genre. If readers don’t get a Shaolin monk with the secret of the Iron Death Fist, they do get a treasure box of hard-boiled crime-solving.
-Dave Hardy


Saturday, October 02, 2010

ARTHUR PENN 1922-2010

The passing of Tony Curtis this week perhaps overshadows the loss of another of America's treasures of the film world. Arthur Penn, arguably one of the most underrated directors, died on September 28. Penn captured my imagination with two of the boldest and most brilliant movies of the 60s-70s, Bonnie & Clyde and Little Big Man. They were made when I was too young to care about such things, but they played again and again on Saturday afternoon TV, back before anyone in Jacksonville, Florida had cable.

What do you say, muleskinner? I watched it so many times. I also read Thomas Berger's novel, which, if one can believe, is even better than the movie.

Bonnie and Clyde is justly famous for for its supremely bloody final scene. But what hooked me was the anarchic, black humor that fueled the story of murderous outlaws on the run.

Thanks for some wonderful times Mr. Penn. You are missed.
-Dave Hardy