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


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