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
This 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