Judge Dee at Work: Eight Chinese Detective Stories - Robert van Gulik Back in the day, before the infomercial conquered late night TV, independent stations (yes, such creatures existed before the 1996 Telecom Act) aired movies, some good, most bad, and sometimes I would stay up all night watching them. It was on one of these marathons that I first saw Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders (based on van Gulik's [book:The Haunted Monastery]) with Khigh Dhiegh (Wo Fat, the crimelord from "Hawaii 5-O", and the diabolical psychiatrist who hypnotizes Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate, among other roles) as the eponymous character. I was already something of a sinophile, and so enjoyed the story of a Tang-era judge who solved mysteries (for a made-for-TV movie, it was fairly well done).

Imagine my joy when I learned 20 years later that that sole movie was based on a series of short stories and novels by a Dutch diplomat named Robert van Gulik, who left this world the very year I entered it. I know I've read some of the stories but it's been 15+ years since and I can't remember exactly which ones and am rereading the series as opportunity permits.

Judge Dee is based on the real Tang magistrate Dee Jen-djieh, who lived from AD 630-700, and really is remembered as a model Confucian minister and paragon of justice. Though the crimes Judge Dee solves under Gulik's hand are fictional, he bases many of them on actual criminal cases from the period.

Van Gulik is not a great writer but he is good enough to write entertaining yarns with interesting characters and intriguing mysteries. (Though, frustratingly, readers must often wait till Judge Dee explains things to figure out the crime; there are not enough clues for them to more than guess at who may have transgressed the law.)

In this particular collection, the two best stories IMO are "The Wrong Sword" and "Murder on New Year's Eve." Both involve what are, on the surface, cut-and-dried cases of murder that take some devious twists before Dee manages to smoke out the real culprits.