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Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Haunted Monastery and The Chinese Maze Murders by Robert Van Gulik

Genre: Historical Mystery

Setting: China in the seventh century

Robert Van Gulik was a diplomat and orientalist.  While serving in China, he discovered the traditional Chinese detective story. In the these stories, the main character is a magistrate.  In each story the magistrate investigates and solves three different crimes.  In many of these stories the main character is Judge Dee.  Judge Dee was a historical figure who was revered for solving mysteries.

Van Gulik modeled his stories on the the Chinese detective story.  He uses Judge Dee as his main character.  Dee, with his trusty lieutenants, investigate crimes and dispense justice in ancient China.  While Van Gulik's stories are works of fiction, he used Chinese sources to suggest mysteries for Dee to solve.

This volume contains two separate Judge Dee novels:

The Haunted Monastery
While returning to his home after a trip to the capital, Judge Dee's carriage breaks an axle during a severe storm.  Fortunately, there is a monastery nearby where he and his family can take refuge.  While at the monastery, Dee begins to notice some strange happenings.  He is already aware of three untimely deaths which have occurred at the monastery in the past year.  The monastery and the storm outside create a mysterious setting as Dee questions his suspects and solves three interwoven crimes. 

The Chinese Maze Murders
Judge Dee has been assigned to a town on the frontier.  When he arrives he finds that the previous magistrate has left, and the town in in the control of a local strongman.  Immediately, he has to take control of the town using guile rather than the force of arms.  In the next few days he solves a sealed-room murder, unravels a contested will, locates a missing girl, discovers the murderer of a previous magistrate, and defuses an imminent attack by the local barbarian tribesmen.  All in a week's work for the intrepid Judge Dee.

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