Book Review: The Chinese Bell Murders: A Judge Dee Detective Story by Robert van Gulik

The Chinese Bell Murders: A Judge Dee Detective Story   

Author: Robert van Gulik

Publisher: Harper Perennial

American release date: August 3, 2004

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Detective/262 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes


Judge Dee has been assigned as the new magistrate in the small village of Poo-Yang. The previous magistrate has left Judge Dee with a case he had not finished, so it is up to Dee to complete adjudication. A young girl, Pure Jade, the daughter of a butcher, was found murdered in her room not far from the family home. Wang Hsien-djoong, a young literature student and Jade’s lover, was arrested for the crime, despite his protestations of innocence. The villagers wish this case to be finished and justice dispensed. However, Judge Dee will not do so without hearing all the evidence for himself. Something he hears causes him to investigate the matter even further, which stirs up the resentment of the villagers that he will not be done with it.

There is something suspicious about the Temple of Boundless Mercy. The temple is renowned as a place where couples who are having difficulty in conceiving a child come to pray to the goddess there. The wife is taken to a small pavilion where she is locked in and sealed, the key given to the husband who sleeps nearby and comes to get his wife in the morning. The monks who run the temple have had a great success rate in helping these unfortunate couples, but some question how a temple which was formerly poor and obscure can now be so prosperous since the arrival of a strange monk.

An elderly widow approaches Judge Dee, requesting justice for her late husband, presenting to him a matter that is some twenty years old which originated in Canton. She has followed the guilty party to Poo-yang and wishes to see him prosecuted. She has previously been dismissed as old and not in her right mind, but Judge Dee is not so sure and decides to look into the matter.

Three more stories of Judge Dee for our delectation, brilliantly entwined and set forth for us to enjoy. Three more mysteries for the Judge and his lieutenants to solve! These are fascinating stories. Judge Dee is undoubtedly brilliant and you have to love him, even if his methods seem odd at first. In this volume, he and his lieutenants come close to losing their lives! Also, the judge goes forth in disguise to investigate matters for himself. Although some of the methods used during the trials are primitive compared to modern day jurisprudence, particularly the torture that is inflicted on some witnesses, the stories are timeless and in the end, good triumphs over evil. If you enjoy mystery novels, you will love the Judge Dee mysteries.


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