On the ninth day of Bookgiving, my true love gave to me:
The Chinese Lake Murders, by Robert Van Gulik.
For those of your friends who enjoy historical mysteries, why not introduce them to Judge Dee?
Robert Van Gulik set his Judge Dee mysteries in seventh century imperial China. They are based on a historical character, Judge Dee, an official who served the T’ang dynasty, and who lived roughly from 630 to 700 A. D. After his death, the character of Judge Dee began appearing in Chinese detective stories. Van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and orientalist, was fascinated by those stories, a form of popular literature which flourished for many hundreds of years, and decided to try his hand at writing one that could be enjoyed by Western readers. Ultimately, he would write more than a dozen of them.
The Chinese Lake Murders is set very early in Judge Dee's career, when he is assigned as the district magistrate in the mountain village of Han-yuan, about sixty miles from what was then the Chinese capital. The district magistrate was central to the administration of imperial China. He was the ultimate civilian authority in the town, acting as judge as well as detective.
Soon after his arrival in the village, Judge Dee attends a party aboard a flower boat cruising the waters of the village’s dark and mysterious lake. He meets a lovely courtesan who startles him by warning him that she must speak to him urgently about a conspiracy. We are hardly surprised when she is murdered almost immediately thereafter, before she has any chance to explain her warning.
As the judge investigates, he is also called upon to solve the mystery surrounding the death of a young bride and the disappearance of her body. And he is drawn into the curious behavior of an elderly statesman who appears to be selling off most of his property at a loss. All of the cases eventually prove to be interrelated, and they do lead the judge to discover a deep and dangerous conspiracy that threatens the stability of the Chinese empire itself. With the help of his assistants, Judge Dee eventually does solve all the problems before him – and the solutions are quite satisfyingly ingenious.
The Chinese Lake Murders is available in a handsome paper edition from Harper. I don't see any sign online of an e-book version, nor can I find any audiobook recordings, so I'm afraid you'll have to actually read this one in a print edition.
(If you came in late, here's what we're doing - I hope you'll join in!)