Something was very wrong in the district of Lan-Fang, a remote area of ancient China during the Tang Dynasty some thirteen centuries ago. Judge Dee, newly appointed as the magistrate for Lan-Fang, discovered the town living in fear, the administrative functions usurped by a local tyrant. It would be up to Judge Dee to figure out a way to restore normalcy to the town. And he would have to do that before he could really get down to solving three cases involving murder and other crimes. Read all about it in The Chinese Maze Murders, by Robert Van Gulik, which is the subject of today's book review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Judge Dee was a real person who lived in China during the Tang dynasty during the seventh century, but his exploits, as reported in The Chinese Maze Murders, were fictional. In 1949, Robert Van Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and Orientalist, had published a volume called The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee which was the translation of a classic Chinese detective novel written in the eighteenth century. At the end of that book, Van Gulik had challenged Western authors to try their hands at writing a classic Chinese detective story. As nobody took him up on the challenge, Van Gulik began writing them himself. The first of the books, originally published in 1956, was The Chinese Maze Murders. It begins with Judge Dee cleverly solving the problem presented by that local tyrant and then going on to solve three interrelated mysteries: "The Murder in the Sealed Room," "The Hidden Testament" and "The Girl with the Severed Head." Van Gulik went on to write more than a dozen other books about Judge Dee, all of which are very much worth your reading time. Van Gulik expertly fleshed out his characters and settings in an effort to give today's readers some idea of what life in ancient China may have been like. You don't need to read the books in any particular order, but The Chinese Maze Murders certainly would be a good place to start.
In today's podcast, I managed inadvertently to place the action in the wrong fictional part of China. It takes place, as I said above, in Lan-Fang. I mistakenly call it Poo-Yang, where several other Judge Dee books take place. My error and my apologies.
As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book set anywhere but the U.S. and England. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.