Judge Dee is an imperial magistrate who travels the country solving mysteries and murders. Not content merely to judge cases as they come to court, Judge Dee investigates crimes himself.
This book comprises of two short stories. In the first one, Judge Dee is upset to discover murder in his own home. It starts when he is watching a troop of monkeys playing in his garden and one of them drops an expensive emerald ring. Examining it, Dee realises the ring is encrusted with blood. When Judge Dee stumbles over a mutilated body hidden in his garden he decides to find out who is responsible. With the help of his assistant Tao Gan, Dee set out to investigate a nest of pawnbrokers, thieves and vagabonds.
In the second story, Judge Dee is travelling to the capital in order to receive a promotion thanks to his solving of the Chinese Nail Murders. Unfortunately the weather is fierce: Dee is separated from his staff and takes refuge in a large isolated country house. Here he finds that the family a mourning a young dead girl, seemingly a victim of a heart attack. The theft of 40 shining bars of gold, however, leads Dee to think there is more to the story. Beset by bandits, ghosts and superstitious hosts who believe that their troubles are foretold by the almanac and therefore immutable, Dee sets out to solve the mystery.
Judge Dee was practising in the 7th century but the writer, Robert Van Gulik, was a Dutch diplomat living in China in the early 20th Century. Interested in Chinese history, he decided to write a series of detective novel based old Chinese stories. Beautifully written, each Judge Dee story is a pearl of literature. The English is beautiful yet modern, easy to read yet evocative of the China that existed over 13 centuries ago.