The Chinese Gold Murders
Robert van Gulik
published in 1959
This is the second of the Judge Dee series I've read, coincidentally also the second in the series. The first I read, The Chinese Lake Murders being the third in the series. As with the previous one, I quite enjoyed The Chinese Gold Murders. There's some continuity between books, but they're very amendable to being read out of order.
The story this time takes place at the very beginning of Judge Dee's career as a district magistrate and starts with him travelling together with his faithful old retainer Hoong Liang to his first post in the city of Peng-lai. During this trip Judge Dee is held up by two "brothers of the greenwoods" who later become his assistants. Their relationship with Judge Dee is similar to that of Nero Wolfe with Archie Goodwin: they do the legwork, Judge Dee does the thinking. (It also makes it easier for the author to pay a bit more attention to the seedier and perhaps more interesting side of life in an ancient Chinese city...)
As was the case also in The Chinese Lake Murders, there are once again three separate cases for Judge Dee to solve. The first of which is the murder of his predecessor and the reason why Judge Dee took up this post. Then there's the case of the runaway bride, as well as the murder of a local bully. At first these cases may seem unrelated, but at closer examination they turn out not to be... Much of the details of the cases is taken from old Chinese stories and legends, adapted to van Gulik's needs.
As with the The Chinese Lake Murders, I wholly recommend this novel to anybody who likes to unwind with a light detective novel. It's not great literature, but it is top rate entertainment --I finished this in less then two days.
Webpage created 10-02-2003, last updated 21-12-2003