Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Publisher: Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: July 2004
ISBN: 0060728671
Format Reviewed: Paperback
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Genre:   Historical Crime [663AD, China]
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Rachel A Hyde
Reviewer Notes:  

The Chinese Gold Murders  
By Robert Van Gulik

      This is the second of Harper Collins’ reprints of these wonderful classic detective stories. It is set chronologically earlier than The Chinese Bell Murders (also reviewed on this site) right at the beginning of Judge Dee’s career. Unsatisfied with the paperwork associated with his position in the capital, he is keen to leave for a provincial post where he can do something more practical. He certainly has his work cut out for him; he is taking over the job of district magistrate from his murdered predecessor Wang, and even on the journey there he is ambushed by highwaymen! He has to find out whodunit, get to grips with a very strange chief clerk and Wang’s ghost and solve cases concerning a runaway bride, a Buddhist temple, and unrest from the Koreans following the recent war.

       This sounds like an exciting, packed tale and it is. Something happens on every page and there isn’t a spare word, but this laconic style never leaves the reader feeling that the book wasn’t long enough to tell the story fully. This is part of what makes the series classics of the genre that get reprinted repeatedly without dating. Other aspects to praise are the likeable protagonists, a little judicious use of humor, and even a hint of the supernatural. All in just under 200 pages! This could all be too cozy but somehow it isn’t, as the author knew his facts and the harsh punishments and some unforgiving customs add up to give a convincing picture of 7th century China. This is balanced out by the timeless joys of good companionship, engaging work, and simple pleasures such as good food and wine. If you haven’t read any of these books this is an excellent one to start with.