Another Review at MyShelf.Com

The Chinese Nail Murders
A Judge Dee Detective Story

By Robert Van Gulik

     This is the fourth of Harper Collins' new reprints of Robert van Gulik's ageless detective stories. Set later in his career, Judge Dee has been sent to the border town of Pei-chow in the chilly far north of China. One woman has disappeared, and another has turned up as a headless body with her husband as the main suspect. A children's game, a paper cat, and missing jewels are featured in this story, which tests the Judge to his limits.

     There is a darker tone in here that adds weight to the story and brings the chilly wind of authenticity. We are reminded that this is a warts-and-all picture of ancient times, and Judge Dee was a man of his time both in his beliefs and his obedience to unfamiliar laws. Probably the fact that van Gulik translated an original Judge Dee story makes these novels so unique and authentic. In a lengthy postscript he lays out features of both Chinese fiction and what was considered "politically correct" in the Judge's lifetime. Laconic and yet so redolent of those long-ago days, this is another gem of a story that belongs on any historical crime aficionado's keeper shelf. Three cases twine in and out of each other (so much more realistic than having the detective just solve one at a time if you think about it) and it all fits neatly together like a Chinese puzzle box - what a classic.

     Check out The Chinese Gold Murders, The Chinese Bell Murders and The Chinese Lake Murders, also reviewed on this site. Then visit

The Book

Perennial (Harper Collins)
January 2005
Historical Crime [7th century AD, China]
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The Reviewer

Rachel A Hyde
Reviewed 2005
© 2005