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Judge Dee at Work by Robert van Gulik Book Review

on July 18, 2014

499653I first became aware of the Detective Dee or Judge Dee (Judge Di) stories when I saw the movie Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon. It was a movie in subtitles but I enjoyed the mystery and fantasy so I watched the next movie Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. It reminded me a lot of the Sherlock Holmes stories in that Detective Dee used clues and deduction to solve the mystery, mixed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon type stunts. However, Dee doesn’t use science as his basis for discovery as Holmes did.

I found this book at the library on audio cassette. The books were actually based on old works found by Robert van Gulik in the 1940s at a Chinese second-hand bookstore. The stories involved cases of a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, magistrate and statesman of the Tang court which dated back to 7th century China. Van Gulik translated the works and then began writing his own stories. This book contains stories van Gulik wrote.

It was a quick read (listen). It was kind of fun to try to guess the murderer. All the cases involved murder and Detective Dee always got the culprit. The only thing I was offended by, rather concerned about, was the frequent use of courtesans and prostitutes as characters. I’m not a scholar on ancient China, but I began to wonder if every woman was a courtesan or prostitute. Also, much of the time the crimes involved a scheming woman. So that wasn’t pleasant to read. But the mysteries were simple and enjoyable despite this. It was not vulgar but did mention some nudity. It was just something I couldn’t share with my 8-year-old who loves mysteries because she wanted to know what a courtesan was. I just told her it was a woman who learned many arts and poetry who was hired to entertain rich guys. That’s basically right.

I recommend this for mystery readers.

Rating 4/5

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