Friday, January 27, 2023

7. Poets and Murder by Robert van Gulik

I had heard about Judge Dee over the years, but assumed it was a kind of mystery Charlie Chan series.  I did see at least one of the Tsui Hark Judge Dee movies, which was tons of fun.  However, recently I saw some pulp mystery fans on social media speaking highly of Judge Dee and then found this in a free box in Berkeley. It was surprisingly good!  I appreciate that it is an extreme case of what I believe is called "Orientalism" and I was happy that the portrayal of Tang dynasty China seemed respectful and well researched (there is an afterward where van Gulik explains the setting and the research he did).  More importantly, the story itself was really cool. It had an enjoyable mix of interesting characters in a rich setting with a touch of mysticism (the overall theme was fox spirits).  Judge Dee's style and methodology were particularily good.  He does a lot of research via the empire's bureaucracy and culture of record-taking.  I guess this may seem boring but I found it to be a neat twist on procedural investigation.  I also enjoyed the culture of politeness that makes Judge Dee very careful in how he approaches people and works on his investigation.  Finally, there was a humanity to the entire proceeding that I enjoyed.  I hope Poets and Murder is indicative of the series because if so I will keep an eye out for others.

No comments: