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The Chinese Lake Murders
A Judge Dee Detective Story

By Robert Van Gulik

     Here is the third of Harper Collins' reprints of Robert van Gulik's timeless detective stories. Judge Dee has been sent to the town of Han-yuan, not far from the Imperial capitol. Things seem peaceful enough until the judge attends a party on a flower boat, and a beautiful courtesan is found murdered. Her last words were that she wanted to have a quiet word with Judge Dee, and thus begins one of the three interlocked mysteries. At the same time he has to solve the riddle of an old man who is selling off his assets at ridiculously low prices, and the case of a murdered bride. Worse still are rumors of a cult called the White Lotus, which is dedicated to overthrowing the Emperor.

     Judge Dee has his work cut out for him in another action-packed but admirably brief novel. On every page there are fascinating insights into life in 7th century China, and plenty of adventure and mystery. Add to this some likeable protagonists, van Gulik's authentic line drawings, and a useful postscript to explain sources, and you have a classic. Cozy? No, this is an unforgiving time, and the author paints a picture of a society with just but (to our eyes) harsh laws and punishments, and a place where mistakes prove costly. But it isn't too grim either, and this is where van Gulik's work really shows its worth, for here surely is ancient China from the perspective of those who lived there. This is no mean feat for a recent novelist. He avoids the tiresome practice of too many historical novelists, who show a different place and time from a modern viewpoint. Thus his work will probably never date, as there is nothing of the 1960s in it. Even if you think you don't like historical crime fiction, give this series a try. Check out The Chinese Gold Murders and The Chinese Bell Murders, also reviewed on this site.

The Book

Perennial (Harper Collins)
January 2005
Historical Crime [666AD, China]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2005
© 2005