Neal J. Pollock
- Published on Amazon.com
Dutch diplomat and sinologist Robert Hans van Gulik (1910-67) apparently wrote 16 fiction and 1 translation of the exploits of historical Judge Dee (630-700). He includes a short "Postcript" at the end of all the ones I've read--which you might read first--especially if you haven't read any of them before. He also includes several woodcut type drawings which (while not historically accurate) IMHO greatly enhance these volumes and a "Dramatis Personae" list--especially valuable since its divided up by the case (most of these books involve simultaneous/multiple cases.
This particular book is actually two separate novellas of about 70 pages each:
(1) "The Morning of the Monkey" taking place in 666 (there's a hair raising date for you!) in Judge Dee's own district--he is involved by a Gibbon (actually a type of ape and not a monkey--but close enough for fiction (poetic license and all) carrying a gold ring with entwined dragons. This leads the good judge on a fun, interesting, and challenging adventure--with his usual panache and flashes of insight.
(2) "The Night of the Tiger" which takes place in 676 & pits the new Lord Chief Justice of the Empire and President of the Metropolitan Court (i.e. Judge Dee, promoted after "The Chinese Nail Murders," once again travelling, & born in the Year of the Tiger) without his strong entourage against the Flying Tigers--a gang of cut-throats. Admittedly, his separation from his guards is a bit far-fetched--it seems a bit arrogant to me--maybe because of his promotion? Of course, these bandits have no relation to the WWII Flying Tigers who actually flew planes. Interestingly, the Judge seems quite complacent despite the apparently dire situation. He does, however, as usual, figure out whodunnit--even when there isn't an apparent crime and also figures out a unique, clever, and IMHO satisfying way out of the dilemma of the Tigers.
Overall, as usual, the tales/cases are very enjoyable and delightful IMHO--especially for readers more interested in straight mystery vs. action/adventure/thriller. If you enjoy the Golden Age of Mysteries (e.g. Sayers, Christie, Marsh, Allingham, Tey), you will probably greatly enjoy the van Gulik books; I plan to read them all--with some now on order at Amazon. The Judge Dee books IMHO are more mystery oriented with less social commentary, flowery description, political intrigue, and physical action than many "mysteries" esp. contemporary ones--but do provide cultural insights--perhaps why I like them better.
If you are interested primarily in Oriental mysteries, you might read Ingrid J. (I.J.) Parker's ~11th century Japan Sugawara Akitada mysteries, Laura Joh Rowland's ~18th c. Japan Sano Ichiro mysteries, and/or James Melville's more contemporary Japan Superintendant Otani mysteries.
The 18 Judge Dee books I've found are (in alphabetical order, ignoring "the"): Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (this one's a translation), The Chinese Bell Murders, The Chinese Gold Murders, The Chinese Lake Murders, The Chinese Maze Murders, The Chinese Nail Murders, The Emperor's Pearl, The Haunted Monastery, Judge Dee at Work, The Lacquer Screen, The Monkey & the Tiger, Murder in Canton, Murder in Ancient China (I've heard this is a sub-set of Judge Dee at Work), Necklace & Calabash, The Phantom of the Temple, Poets & Murder, The Red Pavilion, and The Willow Pattern. So, there are 18 books but one is redundant, one is a translation, and the other 16 are fictional works by van Gulik.