forgotten books: Judge Dee at Work

this is the 116th in my series of posts on forgotten or seldom read books

Judge Dee at Work by Robert Van Gulik © 1979, Chicago University Press 2007 paperback, mystery short story collection featuring Judge Dee

Judge Dee at WorkThis collection of eight short stories covers about 20 years in Judge Dee’s career through several of his postings. A chronology at the back of the book, places each case and all the novels within the timeline of Judge Dee’s life.

Though I was aware of the existence of Van Gulik’s books and the Judge Dee character, I hadn’t previously read any of the stories or novels. A post by George Kelly led me to seek this out.

The stories are very entertaining, both for their historical detail and the mystery content. Judge Dee as a District Magistrate is the leading civilian authority in his district and as such wields a great amount of power, though in his occasional interactions with the military this is mitigated by the separation of military and civil authority. Thus two of these stories, “The Red Tape Murder” and “The Emperor’s Coffins” are particularly interesting. This gives the author an opportunity to introduce information about seventh century Chinese history, such as clashes with Korea and with Tartar offenses on China’s Western border. I particularly liked that aspect of the two stories, but those not featuring that aspect of Chinese history are also filled with insights into that everyday life of the Chinese citizen.

A very enjoyable collection indeed, and it has led me to seek out and read the first three Judge Dee books, The Chinese Gold Murders and The Lacquered Box and The Chinese Lake Murders. I’m really enjoying these and am glad I finally got around to reading them. I have many more in hand and will return to Dee and his cases soon.

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The rest of the Friday Forgotten Book posts
can be found at Patti Abbott’s fine blog Pattinase

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Friday Forgotten Book, mystery, Review and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to forgotten books: Judge Dee at Work

  1. Patti Abbott says:

    It’s Todd this week, Rick. I think he will know to check here. Sorry. In Canada and could not use my phone.

  2. Richard says:

    Okay, thanks. I contacted him.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I’ve always found it confusing sorting out the correct order of these books. There is the order they were written and published, which differs from the actual year the various books were supposed to take place in, not that it really matters that much.

  4. Jeff is right, the order of the Judge Dee mysteries isn’t that important. I read all the Judge Dee mysteries that were published in the Sixties. Later, in the Seventies, I reread the older volumes and caught up to the newer volumes. Now, I find myself rereading these Judge Dee mysteries from time to time. They really hold up.

  5. Richard says:

    The thing I like about reading the books in order is that I know what has — and has not — happened to him and his household before. For instance, in the 2nd or 3rd book he meets one of his assistants and makes him part of the “team”. Knowing the circumstances of that gives insight into the reasons for actions later.

  6. cgramlich says:

    Interesting cover. I’ve seen this style around. It’s kind of funky.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Nice coincidence: I just got a copy of an earlier edition of this from PaperbackSwap.

  8. John says:

    There is a thrilling macabre element to many of these that appealed to me as a teen when I first discovered them. University of Chicago published them in the late 70s in tather expensive (for the time) paperback editions but I bought several of them anyway. If you read THE CHINESE BELL MURDERS, the first one I read, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Also the use of Chinese superstition and the prevalence of ghosts and haunted places crops up a lot. I like these books tremendously. Glad George managed to tempt you and you’ve succumbed to the lure of Van Gulik’s ancient China.

  9. Richard says:

    Yes, John, I’m really pleased with these books and had to practically force myself to take a break from them to read other things on The List.

  10. Todd Mason says:

    Indeed, no lack of Dees (“Doze?”).

  11. Pingback: Sunday New Used | Beyond AQs Reviews

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