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A.D. 676 In the fifth installment of Robert Van Gulik's ancient Chinese mystery series based on historical court records, detective Judge Dee is appointed to the magistrate of Pei-chow - a distant frontier district in the barren north of the ancient Chinese Empire. It is here that he is faced with three strange and disturbing crimes: the theft of precious jewels, the disapp A.D. 676 In the fifth installment of Robert Van Gulik's ancient Chinese mystery series based on historical court records, detective Judge Dee is appointed to the magistrate of Pei-chow - a distant frontier district in the barren north of the ancient Chinese Empire. It is here that he is faced with three strange and disturbing crimes: the theft of precious jewels, the disappearance of a girl in love, and the fiendish murder involving the nude, headless body of a woman. And even more curious, the crimes seem to be linked together by clues from a popular game of the period, the Seven Board.


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A.D. 676 In the fifth installment of Robert Van Gulik's ancient Chinese mystery series based on historical court records, detective Judge Dee is appointed to the magistrate of Pei-chow - a distant frontier district in the barren north of the ancient Chinese Empire. It is here that he is faced with three strange and disturbing crimes: the theft of precious jewels, the disapp A.D. 676 In the fifth installment of Robert Van Gulik's ancient Chinese mystery series based on historical court records, detective Judge Dee is appointed to the magistrate of Pei-chow - a distant frontier district in the barren north of the ancient Chinese Empire. It is here that he is faced with three strange and disturbing crimes: the theft of precious jewels, the disappearance of a girl in love, and the fiendish murder involving the nude, headless body of a woman. And even more curious, the crimes seem to be linked together by clues from a popular game of the period, the Seven Board.

30 review for The Chinese Nail Murders (Judge Dee

  1. 4 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    The 4th in the series of the magnificent Judge Dee detective novels the wise magistrate and his four trusted , able assistants have arrived in the northern frontier town of Pei-chow where a war with the Tartars, who live just across the border may begin any moment, and a Chinese army of 100,000 soldiers nearby nervous but ready for action . Nevertheless everything seems calm on the surface in the small town, just one important case of note for Dee to investigate, the disappearance of Liao Lien-f The 4th in the series of the magnificent Judge Dee detective novels the wise magistrate and his four trusted , able assistants have arrived in the northern frontier town of Pei-chow where a war with the Tartars, who live just across the border may begin any moment, and a Chinese army of 100,000 soldiers nearby nervous but ready for action . Nevertheless everything seems calm on the surface in the small town, just one important case of note for Dee to investigate, the disappearance of Liao Lien-fang the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Many people believe she ran away with a secret lover, the stunned fiance Yu Lang doesn't of course and fears foul play. Soon something happens and Judge Dee almost forgets about that , when a woman's headless, bloody body is found in bed and the husband Pan Feng, is suspected of this heinous crime, he denies killing his wife, like all murderers do... Her two brothers want sweet revenge, Yeh Pin, Yeh Tai ( in China surnames come first). Since ancient Chinese mysteries had three murderous cases each, Robert van Gulik the Dutch scholar , diplomat and writer of these stories follows this custom. A renowned Chinese boxer Lan Tao-kuei is poisoned in a bathhouse by an unknown villain dressed in Tartar clothes, this man who had brought glory to the north and was one of the best athletes in the nation shocks the already anxious town. Unrest is brewing and not just the tea, the army offers to send troops but the wise, we hope magistrate, refuses, this was caused when Judge Dee accuses the beautiful widow Mrs. Loo of killing her husband who died five months ago, unexpectedly and under strange circumstances, before the magistrate came to town. It doesn't help that the insolent widow mostly naked, was viciously whipped in public on orders from Dee in court. The whole city is furious, an innocent lady they think, tortured by the cruel judge. A riot almost breaks out in the tribunal but another will if the desperate Dee can't solve this baffling mystery...even a death close to home causes pain and the great man sinks in despair...He the tranquil, always with a placid face to the people, the symbol of the 7th century Tang dynasty , the mighty Empire, is rocked...The judge will have to use all his wisdom to recover. A book that is a remarkably entertaining, not just another detective book it has heart, and surprisingly pathos...as the all powerful official learns , not everything needed can be found in the law books...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zak

    From Wikipedia: Judge Dee (also, Judge Di) is a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, county magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character appeared in the 18th-century Chinese detective and gong'an crime novel "Di Gong An". After Robert van Gulik came across it in an antiquarian book store in Tokyo, he translated the novel into English and then used the style and characters to write his own original Judge Dee historical mystery stories. ------------------- From Wikipedia: Judge Dee (also, Judge Di) is a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, county magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character appeared in the 18th-century Chinese detective and gong'an crime novel "Di Gong An". After Robert van Gulik came across it in an antiquarian book store in Tokyo, he translated the novel into English and then used the style and characters to write his own original Judge Dee historical mystery stories. -------------------------------------------------------------- This is No. 15 out of 17 in Robert van Gulik's "Judge Dee" series. In the olden days of China, a judge or magistrate had investigative powers and often doubled as a sort of detective in getting to the bottom of a case before passing his verdict (sort of like the French system now). I have not read any other book in this series before and chose this because I read an article saying this was one of the better ones. There are actually three murder / missing person cases going on simultaneously in this book, which, at the outset, we are unsure as to whether they are related. The web of characters, clues and developments is very wide and at times it was a challenge keeping up with the entire thing. Fans of puzzle mysteries will probably find this complexity fun. The novel really focuses more on the process of evidence discovery, as such, character development is not a primary factor, although it does get a bit more "feely" towards the second half. Overall, I quite enjoyed reading this since it was based in an ancient setting. [Final rating: 3.75*]

  3. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A Serendipitous Discovery June 29, 2011: I move to New York City. Early July: I hear about a new Tsui Hark film, "Detective Dee," and try to attend a screening, only to find out that it's part of a film festival that has long since sold out. Still, my curiosity is piqued about a martial artist investigator. Days later: I peruse a table of second-hand books near my apartment and pick out a book called "The Chinese Gold Murders." The description on the back intrigues me, and I think, "Hell, one dolla A Serendipitous Discovery June 29, 2011: I move to New York City. Early July: I hear about a new Tsui Hark film, "Detective Dee," and try to attend a screening, only to find out that it's part of a film festival that has long since sold out. Still, my curiosity is piqued about a martial artist investigator. Days later: I peruse a table of second-hand books near my apartment and pick out a book called "The Chinese Gold Murders." The description on the back intrigues me, and I think, "Hell, one dollar? Why not?" One day later: my friend D_Davis and I find out, through Goodreads, that we both picked this up around the same time. We talk it over, and I find out that the Hark film is based on this character. Late August: one of my colleagues at my school has a set of "The Chinese Gold Murders" at his desk. Turns out he intended to assign it as summer reading at the end of the previous year, and that he is a big fan of the series. Thanksgiving week: I am in Michigan over break, where I discover a used bookstore called "Classic Books." It fucking rules. There are loads of tough-to-find books just spilling from the shelves--and, what's this: over half of the Judge Dee books, right there in all of their paperback glory. I swoon. Now that You're in My Life... It took me a few months to get to Judge Dee, and once I did, I was a very happy reader. These are such singular books--at least, they are in my reading experience. Van Gulik combines his encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese life in the later quarter of the first millennium with a excellent sense of strong mystery plotting. Bodies pile up on Judge Dee's docket with a speed that strains against the slim size of this volume, and each new mystery introduces a bevy of characters, each of whom brings an individual vitality to the story through brief, well-written exposition. Put simply: this is great story-telling in a unique setting. Last Word This volume is set late in Judge Dee's career. As a magistrate, the Judge has a wide range of powers and privileges, and van Gulik examines how the Judge handles these responsibilities, and how they have affected his character. Diminutive as this book may be, it contains surprising depths.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ivonne Rovira

    Robert van Gulik's Judge novels so reward the reader that it's nearly impossible to pick a favorite; however, I think that The Chinese Nail Murders may be my favorite so far. In The Chinese Nail Murders, Judge Dee presides at the last magisterial post of his career before being promoted to the capital. That post, Pei-chow, is a bitterly frigid bastion on the untamed northern frontier of the Chinese Empire. In the novel’s first chapter, Judge Dee hears the complaint from two brothers that their s Robert van Gulik's Judge novels so reward the reader that it's nearly impossible to pick a favorite; however, I think that The Chinese Nail Murders may be my favorite so far. In The Chinese Nail Murders, Judge Dee presides at the last magisterial post of his career before being promoted to the capital. That post, Pei-chow, is a bitterly frigid bastion on the untamed northern frontier of the Chinese Empire. In the novel’s first chapter, Judge Dee hears the complaint from two brothers that their sister has been beheaded and murdered by her husband, a curios merchant. Not to spoil the plot, let’s just say the case isn’t nearly as simple as that. All Judge Dee mysteries are supposed to consist of three cases, but this one actually includes four: two more unrelated murders — that of a cotton merchant and a boxer — and the case of a missing fiancée with some blackmail thrown in for good measure, although the crimes are intertwined. Near the end of the novel, Judge Dee’s own life becomes endangered and yet another, previously unknown crime comes to light. With so many subplots crissing and crossing, The Chinese Nail Murders gets quite suspenseful — especially the last 50 pages! The ancient Chinese game of Seven Board plays a recurring role in the novel. In one of the cases, it even provides the solution to one of the murders. In a rare move by author Robert van Gulik, he casts The Chinese Nail Murders, the sixth book in the Judge Dee mystery series, as a story told about Judge Dee’s exploits during the 7th century T’ang Dynasty to one brother by another, the latter the magistrate of the same district as Dee, centuries later during the Ming Dynasty. That element, with some supernatural overtones, doesn’t add anything to the main storyline. The Chinese Nail Murders proves to be yet another delightful Judge Dee mystery. For those saddened at the thought that this novel marks the van Gulik’s final Judge Dee novel, fear not! Judge Dee novels aren’t in chronological order, so you needn’t despair that his novel — despite being set at the end of Judge Dee’s career — will be the last. Fear not! There are plenty more novels that follow!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Chung

    of all the Judge Dee books that I have read so far, this has been a most heart wrenching story. I felt so much hopelessness when I read this book. the case of the missing girl and death of Mrs Pan were okay. However when it comes to the case of Sargent Hoong, it felt like a stab in my heart. it was just so not worth it. I am disappointed at the Case of Mrs Loo as the plot was very similar to the plot of a previous book that I read. was it "the poisoned bride and others mysteries"? it was sad abou of all the Judge Dee books that I have read so far, this has been a most heart wrenching story. I felt so much hopelessness when I read this book. the case of the missing girl and death of Mrs Pan were okay. However when it comes to the case of Sargent Hoong, it felt like a stab in my heart. it was just so not worth it. I am disappointed at the Case of Mrs Loo as the plot was very similar to the plot of a previous book that I read. was it "the poisoned bride and others mysteries"? it was sad about Mrs Kou too. despite the good news in the ending , I still feel uneasy. it was like this book show the more "human" side of Judge Dee. I would have given this book 5 stars if it has not been because of Mrs Loo's case which reason of my disappointment ststed above.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    I want to give this book 3+ stars if only because we finally get a glimpse at the personal cost of Dee's devotion to Confucianism when he discovers that a woman who he's falling in love with murdered her first husband (in her defense: he was abusive) but the Law and propriety demand that she pay the price.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    Another great entry in the Judge Dee series. Here Dee solves the mysteries of a headless corpse, a murdered martial-arts expert, and gets into a tough spot with a cold case that puts him on the chopping block.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kao

    Judge Dee Jen-djieh is the hero of The Chinese Nail Murders. He’s a magistrate in the fictitious town of Pei-chow in the far north of China. Judge Dee must solve two gruesome murders and a sinister disappearance or risk his own head. A MANDARIN POIROT For a detective story first published in 1950, The Chinese Nail Murders is a suprisingly fast-paced read. The plot lines entangle nicely as well with plenty of misdirection to send the reader down the wrong rabbit hole. Judge Dee is also quite a chara Judge Dee Jen-djieh is the hero of The Chinese Nail Murders. He’s a magistrate in the fictitious town of Pei-chow in the far north of China. Judge Dee must solve two gruesome murders and a sinister disappearance or risk his own head. A MANDARIN POIROT For a detective story first published in 1950, The Chinese Nail Murders is a suprisingly fast-paced read. The plot lines entangle nicely as well with plenty of misdirection to send the reader down the wrong rabbit hole. Judge Dee is also quite a character. He has four wives, nothing odd for the time. What’s strange about Judge Dee is that he loves his wives. But he can be pompous, too. Judge Dee reminds me of Hercule Poirot, that pigeon-toed, Belgian detective with the waxed moustache created by Agatha Christie. Like Poirot, Judge Dee is miraculously adept at solving all his cases single-handedly. And to insist on explaining it all in a long set-piece of grandstanding. DUTCH ROOTS The real Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh) lived from AD 630-700. He was a Tang Dynasty magistrate-detective. His life story became fodder for storytellers in the Song Dynasty. These performers would wander from village to marketplace where eager audiences awaited them. That oral tradition eventually lay the foundations for the Chinese detective novel and its hero, the local magistrate. Robert van Gulik was not a professional writer. His day job was as a diplomat for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Van Gulik was fluent in Chinese, Japanese and various ancient Asian languages. He accordingly spent most of his working life in the Far East. His first posting was to Tokyo until the war necessitated his evacuation in 1942. From Japan, Van Gulik went to Chongqing, then the wartime capital of China, where he remained until 1945. The Judge Dee novels were extremely popular in Van Gulik’s native country. My husband devoured all 17 novels as a boy growing up in Eindhoven. Van Gulik published his novels from 1947 to 1967, offering to many readers their first glimpse into a country hermetically sealed by the Communists. CONFUCIUS In the introduction to my stained 1977 copy, Donald Lach describes the Confucian world of a Tang dynasty judge: "an unshakeable faith in the superiority of everything Chinese and a disdain for all foreigners, a steadfast belief in all aspects of filial piety, a matter-of-fact attitude toward torture, and an unrelenting hostility to Buddhism and Taoism." Judge Dee is very much a product of this world view. For example, he has a particularly low opinion of Tartars (a/k/a Mongols). Here, Judge Dee interrogates a witness as to the character of the suspect Mrs. Loo. "Her father was a decent merchant, but her mother was of Tartar descent and dabbled in black magic. Her daughter had the same weird interests, she was always preparing strange potions in the kitchen, and sometimes would fall into a trance, and then say gruesome things." The presence of Tartars in this Chinese town is no coincidence. Barbarians are forever threatening the borders of China, though where those borders lie may be a matter of contention. Here, Judge Dee’s faithful servants complain about how difficult it is to heat these northern houses. "‘Don’t forget, Sergeant,’ [the judge] said, ‘that till three years ago this tribunal was the headquarters of the Generalissimo of our Northern Army. The military always seem to need much elbow space!’ ‘The Generalissimo will have plenty of that where he is now!’ Tao Gan observed. ‘Two hundred miles farther up north, right in the frozen desert!’" DWELLING IN THE PAST Donald Lach is lavish in his praise of the scholarship that underlies Van Gulik’s fiction. At the same time, he notes the irony of a wartime diplomat choosing to write about imperial China. "Although [Van Gulik] was a close student of the Ming and [Qing] dynasties, the Dutch scholar’s experiences with life in China were limited to a few brief visits and to several years’ stay during the Second World War. He idealizes the China which existed before the empire had been shaken by the disruptive influences of the West and Japan. He sees imperial China most often from the viewpoint of the Confucian gentry for whose way of life he had respect and affection." Van Gulik lived through the 2nd Sino-Japanese War in both of the combatant countries. It’s odd then that he should choose to erase that experience from his fiction. Perhaps, as a diplomat, Van Gulik was restrained from publicizing his personal views. Or maybe Van Gulik needed to cast his gaze into the distant past when reason and order still prevailed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    In the late 6th century CE, Chinese magistrate Dee Jen-Djieh, ‘Judge Dee’, is posted to the northern frontier town of Pei-Chow, and finds himself faced with a series of crimes, all seemingly unconnected. A young woman, betrothed to the secretary of a notable personage, vanishes inexplicably. The headless body of a woman is found by her brothers, who immediately accuse her husband—who appears to be absconding—of having murdered her. Judge Dee, helped by the wise Sergeant Hoong and his three loyal In the late 6th century CE, Chinese magistrate Dee Jen-Djieh, ‘Judge Dee’, is posted to the northern frontier town of Pei-Chow, and finds himself faced with a series of crimes, all seemingly unconnected. A young woman, betrothed to the secretary of a notable personage, vanishes inexplicably. The headless body of a woman is found by her brothers, who immediately accuse her husband—who appears to be absconding—of having murdered her. Judge Dee, helped by the wise Sergeant Hoong and his three loyal lieutenants, has barely begun investigating these two murders when two more corpses crop up: a boxing master who is found poisoned in a bath house, and a man who was pronounced dead of heart attack and buried, but whom the judge suspects of having been murdered. Like all of Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee books, The Chinese Nail Murders is brilliantly fast-paced, complex, and offers a fine glimpse of life in the period of the Tang dynasty. Even though van Gulik follows the Chinese crime novel style of more action and less description, he manages to work in details that bring to life the era: the trade, the social norms and customs, the clothing, the attitudes towards the imperial administration, everything. This novel, I will admit, was the one which first introduced me to Seven Board, and the way van Gulik uses it to good effect as a clue is delightful. I like especially also the fact that this novel has a certain amount of the ‘human element’ in it: Judge Dee is a very alive character, not just a judge, but a man, with his own failings, his own doubts and weaknesses. Excellent, and I would strongly suggest reading the two postscripts as well, since van Gulik uses them to explain his own sources for his stories (nearly all of which are based on old Chinese detective novels), the changes he’s made to suit the books for modern audiences (such as doing away with the idea of letting ghosts, goblins, animals, and kitchen utensils offer evidence in court!), and further insights into the life of the real-life historical figure that was Judge Dee.

  10. 4 out of 5

    R.

    The novels are illustrated with plates drawn by the author in the Chinese style. Van Gulik has found a reason to include at least one top-heavy, nude woman in each mystery. Which he illustrates. In the Chinese style. The Chinese Nail Murders were alluded to in "The Night of the Tiger" in Monkey and the Tiger. Alluded to as having been the case which knocked Dee for a loop. Took the wind out of his sails. It was his Waterloo. His personal Waterloo. Every detective gets run through the emotional w The novels are illustrated with plates drawn by the author in the Chinese style. Van Gulik has found a reason to include at least one top-heavy, nude woman in each mystery. Which he illustrates. In the Chinese style. The Chinese Nail Murders were alluded to in "The Night of the Tiger" in Monkey and the Tiger. Alluded to as having been the case which knocked Dee for a loop. Took the wind out of his sails. It was his Waterloo. His personal Waterloo. Every detective gets run through the emotional wringer, disillusioned by one case. This is Dee's. For Dee, this is the case that knocks him flat. Leaves him looped. Illustrated by Van Gulik. In a style not unlike the Chinese. This is Se7en circa the 17th century. * Judge Dee answers most things "curtly". That rocks. Take no shit from those groveling peasants, Dee! And by groveling peasants, I mean that comedic crew you call your trusted lieutenants.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    This may be my new favourite Judge Dee book. Unlike the others he actually seemed to get involved in the case, staking his reputation on what he thought had happened. He appeared much more human and much more sympathetic. There was also an unexpected death which surprised me a great deal. The mystery was more normal, not too shocking, though I will never look at snowmen the same again. I do love the Judge Dee novels, while ahistorical in that they are supposedly set in the Tang dynasty but are w This may be my new favourite Judge Dee book. Unlike the others he actually seemed to get involved in the case, staking his reputation on what he thought had happened. He appeared much more human and much more sympathetic. There was also an unexpected death which surprised me a great deal. The mystery was more normal, not too shocking, though I will never look at snowmen the same again. I do love the Judge Dee novels, while ahistorical in that they are supposedly set in the Tang dynasty but are written as if it were the Ming I still really enjoy the culture and the setting. I'm definitely going to read them all.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bob Deysach

    This is the best of the series of four. The book is set in 700AD China like the others and written by a scholar who pieced some extent stories with his knowledge of the culture to produce an engaging trip back 13 centuries. It was filled with sort of believable examples of the time. For example, Judge Dee indicates how circumstances led to his taking a 3rd wife when he really wanted to stick with his first two. But he then parenthetically added that it worked out well in that the four of them we This is the best of the series of four. The book is set in 700AD China like the others and written by a scholar who pieced some extent stories with his knowledge of the culture to produce an engaging trip back 13 centuries. It was filled with sort of believable examples of the time. For example, Judge Dee indicates how circumstances led to his taking a 3rd wife when he really wanted to stick with his first two. But he then parenthetically added that it worked out well in that the four of them were perfect for dominoes, his “favorite game.” Oh yes, the plots were interesting as well.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jim Layman

    My favorite of the Judge Dee mysteries thus far, the mystery unfolds under the cold white snows of a northern Chinese province. Judge Dee struggles to solve several grisly murders and also faces inner turmoil and threat of his own dismissal and demise. We see the Judge’s human side and his quest for honor and reverence toward his august ancestors.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    A long time ago I listened to the Judge Dee series on cassette tapes put out by Recorded Books. At a used book store I found the paperback edition of The Chinese Nail Murders, a browning copy from the 60s. That was cool. These are wonderful stories; there is mystery and there is insight into the cultural life of the Tang Dynasty of the 7th century. Fascinating and enjoyable.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mazeli Dee

    I bawled at this. Another beloved major character was killed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Groucho42

    Sarah is called to a wealthy home when the pregnant wife goes into labor after finding her murdered husband. The man was a mesmerist and mystery to find the killer ensues.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sandy Jones

    The cases in this book are interesting, but the writing style is kind of slow. Overall it is an enjoyable read. You should read this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    a clever little whodunnit with lots of murder and intrigue

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Warning: spoilers This is not my favourite of the classic Judge Dee mysteries by van Gulik, but without a doubt it ranks among the best-written. It is the last of the books in the Judge's career as magistrate, and it is the last of the books in which Hong Liang makes an appearance. It reads as a murder mystery and as a typical gong'an novel, yes. But it also reads as a tragic drama in grand traditional Chinese style - complete with mournful poetry, a tale of doomed love, and a true moral dile Warning: spoilers This is not my favourite of the classic Judge Dee mysteries by van Gulik, but without a doubt it ranks among the best-written. It is the last of the books in the Judge's career as magistrate, and it is the last of the books in which Hong Liang makes an appearance. It reads as a murder mystery and as a typical gong'an novel, yes. But it also reads as a tragic drama in grand traditional Chinese style - complete with mournful poetry, a tale of doomed love, and a true moral dilemma which entraps both Di Renjie and his subordinates. In his first few weeks in the fictional town of Beizhou, Di Renjie is, as usual, confronted with three cases: the disappearance of the betrothed Miss Liao Lianfang; the grisly murder of Mrs Pan, the wife of an elderly antiques dealer; and the poisoning of the famous martial artist Lan Dakui. These turn out, in fact, to be two separate murder cases rather than one, but they pit Judge Dee and his opponents against one of the single cleverest, most skilful, most determined and most ruthless villains van Gulik has yet written. All the more so because, thanks to her intimate knowledge of the law, near-sociopathic daring and her ability to manipulate people, the widow Chen Baozhen comes very, very close to beating Di Renjie at his own game. Through a careful web of lies she manages to situate herself as the wrongful victim of his corruption, and thereby place him at risk of his career, his life and the total ruin and shame of his family. In order to bring Chen Baozhen to justice, Di Renjie brings himself to the end of his resources. None of his regular assistants can help him, and one of them has himself been murdered in the course of his duties. One woman alone, the kindly and sensible Mrs. Guo, holds the vital clue, but she can't divulge it to the just judge without incriminating herself of a cold-case murder long since buried and forgotten. Di Renjie himself has to decide between his duties as an administrator of justice and his personal feelings of gratitude and growing affection for Mrs. Guo. Van Gulik writes this tragedy superbly - Mrs. Guo sacrifices herself by giving the judge the clue that saves his life and career, but he is then forced by his office to investigate her, knowing exactly where it will lead. The underworld, martial-arts, 'barbarian' and supernatural elements are still present in this novel, but they are downplayed considerably in favour of the central drama of the investigation and its consequences. However, the Sinophile puzzles - in this case, qiqiaoban (tangrams) - play a very major role in the investigation, and provide a vital clue in the murder of Lan Dakui which leads to Chen Baozhen as the culprit. I'm not exaggerating in the slightest when I claim that this is van Gulik's best-written novel. It shows Judge Dee at his most vulnerable, and thus also best illustrates the strength of his character. If you don't read any other books in this series - read this one.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    One of my friends, seeing that I'm in the middle of a mystery novel spree, lent me this book that she'd read for a Chinese history class last year. It's interesting for a lot of reasons, which I will list here: -The stories are based on real Chinese police cases, but the translator van Gulik (a Dutch diplomat) decided that they were too boring and gave them the CSI treatment to spice them up. This means comically inept deputies, three illustrations featuring topless women being abused in some way One of my friends, seeing that I'm in the middle of a mystery novel spree, lent me this book that she'd read for a Chinese history class last year. It's interesting for a lot of reasons, which I will list here: -The stories are based on real Chinese police cases, but the translator van Gulik (a Dutch diplomat) decided that they were too boring and gave them the CSI treatment to spice them up. This means comically inept deputies, three illustrations featuring topless women being abused in some way, and Judge Dee has forbidden feelings of (gasp!) respect for another woman. -There are four different mysteries within the story, but instead of presenting them one at a time, all four are brought to the judge's attention almost all at once, and they all have to be investigated simultaneously. This sometimes made it hard to remember who was suspected of what, but luckily there's a character list at the beginning of the book. -Everybody drinks tea a lot, and every single time someone poured tea I couldn't help remembering that scene from Mulan where the matchmaker tells her to POUR THE TEA and then all hell breaks loose. Thanks, Disney. -Since van Gulik didn't appear to give a rat's ass about the actual Chinese language, there are several distinctly European words that are very out of place, even in a translation - multiple times he uses the words "duenna", "wenches", and, I kid you not, "Generalissimo." I mean, come on.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heather Lewis

    I appreciated that the setting was based in seventh century China and that it focused on a culture I'm not too familiar with but other than those two factors nothing about the book stood out or made it worth reading. I only finished reading the book so I wouldn't have to put it in the 'come back to and read' pile. I found the characters to be one dimensional and the plots/ themes to overlap themselves too much. As a mystery novel lover, I would not recommend this book to any other fanatic of mys I appreciated that the setting was based in seventh century China and that it focused on a culture I'm not too familiar with but other than those two factors nothing about the book stood out or made it worth reading. I only finished reading the book so I wouldn't have to put it in the 'come back to and read' pile. I found the characters to be one dimensional and the plots/ themes to overlap themselves too much. As a mystery novel lover, I would not recommend this book to any other fanatic of mystery novels.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    The first half was a bit dry, but the second half quickly became exciting and rather disturbing at parts. The books is written in the style of old Chinese murder mysteries telling stories about the historical Judge Dee. In medieval China, the judge was a mix of detective, judge, and governor, and Judge Dee was particularly clever and well-known. Completely different from anything I have ever read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Meita Supardi

    Love it! How genius of Van Gulik to make an old Chinese crime case be solved in a modern CSI way. And I love Judge Dee character, I wish there are still judges like him in this terrible world. When he actually wanted to resign, I literally held my breath. However coincident the case was solved, I felt relief that he got promoted instead :)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Keisuke

    Again, this is a book written by Robert van Gulik. He is so amazing. This one is a sort of mystery story. Very interesting. The story is based on an old Chinese story. He added modern flavor to it. It can be a Hollywood movie.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    A light read. Having read several of his Judge Dee books in the past, I find them interesting as they are set in Imperial China (roughly 630-700). In mysteries of this type, the setting is as interesting as the plot.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

    Excellent. If your crime and thriller reading doesn't have enough of being able to beat a confession out of your suspects, try this for size. On the other hand, for a Judge Dee novel, this is really quite sad and emotional in many ways, at least in the final chapters. Certainly one of the best.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Laiche

    I had to read this book for a class I took in college. I was wrapped up in the whole story and completely devastated when the book ended. If you like Agatha Christie and other mystery writers, you will love this book!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Entertaining, a bit gruesome, and very interesting, these are enjoyable mysteries that give a bit of insight into Chinese culture and history.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is one of the best of the "Judge Dee" mysteries.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Complex, intriguing, educational and fascinating. Well worth reading.

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