Chinese Bell Murders (Judge Dee Series)

( 1 )


Meet Judge Dee, the detective lauded as the "Sherlock Holmes of ancient China"

Fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series will thrill to this reissue of the first volume in Robert van Gulik's classic Chinese Murders series. The Chinese Bell Murders introduces the great Judge Dee, a magistrate of the city of Poo-yang in ancient China.

In the spirit of ancient Chinese detective novels, Judge Dee is challenged by three ...

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Meet Judge Dee, the detective lauded as the "Sherlock Holmes of ancient China"

Fans of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series will thrill to this reissue of the first volume in Robert van Gulik's classic Chinese Murders series. The Chinese Bell Murders introduces the great Judge Dee, a magistrate of the city of Poo-yang in ancient China.

In the spirit of ancient Chinese detective novels, Judge Dee is challenged by three cases. First, he must solve the mysterious murder of Pure Jade, a young girl living on Half Moon Street. All the evidence points to the guilt of her lover, but Judge Dee has his doubts. Dee also solves the mystery of a deserted temple and that of a group of monks' terrific success with a cure for barren women.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Released back to back in 1958 and 1959, these are the first two outings in the author's multivolume Judge Dee mystery series. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Taken together, the Judge Dee series gives a unique and entertaining look at China in the age when Buddhism was first taking root. Those interested in ordinary--and sometimes extraordinary--life in the Tang dynasty, and anyone who just loves a good mystery, will find much here to enjoy."

— Dan Zigmond

Huffington Post

"When you're ready to cuddle up with a good book over the holidays, you will find no better companion than Dee. . . .A historical figure from seventh century Tang dynasty China, he comes to your living room or airplane seat courtesy of one Robert van Gulik . . . who penned a series of novels fictionalizing the exploits of what you might well think of as a Chinese Sherlock Holmes. . . . If you have an interest in ancient China or simply wish to better understand that country today, van Gulik's Judge Dee novels are especially attractive, but even without that dimension, they are truly addicting. As with any truly great crime fiction, the fifteen-odd novels and additional short stories reveal the great and true of the human condition along with the loathsome and the petty."

— Arthur Rosenfeld

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060728885
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/3/2004
  • Series: Judge Dee Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 468,312
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Van Gulik was born in the Netherlands in 1910. He was educated at the Universities of Leyden and Utrecht, and served in the Dutch diplomatic service in China and Japan for many years. His interest in Asian languages and art led him to the discovery of Chinese detective novels and to the historical character of Judge Dee, famous in ancient Chinese annals as a scholar-magistrate. Van Gulik subsequently began writing the Judge Dee series of novels that have so captivated mystery readers ever since. He died of cancer in 1967.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

The Chinese Bell Murders
A Judge Dee Detective Story

Chapter One


A judge must be as a father and mother to the people, Cherishing the good and loyal, helping the sick and old. Though meting out stern punishment to every criminal, Prevention, not correction, should be his primary aim.

It is now six years since I withdrew from the prosperous tea firm inherited from my father, and settled down to peaceful retirement in our country villa outside the eastern city gate. There I at last found time to devote myself entirely to my favorite pastime, namely collecting material on the history of crime and detection.

Since under our present glorious Ming Dynasty peace and order prevail in the Empire and crimes and deeds of violence are of rare occurrence, I soon found that it was the past I had to turn to for data on mysterious misdeeds and their clever solution by perspicacious magistrates. Engaged in this absorbing study I had in the course of the years built up a remarkable collection of authentic documents relating to famous criminal cases, weapons actually employed in cruel murders, antique burglar tools and numerous other relics pertaining to the history of crime.

One of my most treasured items was a gavel, an oblong piece of blackwood, many centuries ago actually used by Judge Dee, our famous master detective. On this gavel was engraved the poem quoted here above. The records state that Judge Dee always used this gavel when presiding over the tribunal so as to be constantly reminded of his solemn duties to the state and the people.

I quote the poem from memory, because I do not have that gavel any more. The horrifying experience I had this summer, about two months ago, made me abandon once and for all my criminological researches, and dispose of my entire collection of objects connected with gory misdeeds of the past. I have now transferred my interest to the collecting of celadon porcelain, and find this sedate hobby eminently suited to my fundamentally peace-loving disposition.

However, there is still one thing I must do before I can really settle down to a tranquil life. I must rid myself of all those haunting memories that today still come to disturb my sleep. To free myself of that recurring nightmare I must disclose the strange secrets that were revealed to me in so weird a manner; then and then only shall I be able to relegate to oblivion for ever the horrible experience that shocked me so deeply and brought me to the verge of insanity.

On this exceptionally fine autumn morning, sitting in my elegant garden pavilion and admiring the grace of my two favorite concubines as they tend the chrysanthemums with their slender hands-in these serene surroundings I at last dare to think back to what happened that fateful day.

It was late in the afternoon on the ninth day of the 8th moonforever that date shall remain engraved on my memory. It had been extremely hot at midday and later the weather became even more sultry. I felt depressed and restless, and finally decided to go out in my palanquin. When my bearers asked me where to, on the spur of the moment I told them to take me to Liu's curio shop.

This shop that bears the lofty name of "The Golden Dragon," stands opposite the Temple of Confucius. Liu, the owner, is a greedy rascal, but he certainly knows his trade and often found me interesting curios relating to the history of crime and detection. I used to spend many a happy hour in his well-stocked shop.

When I had entered I only saw Liu's assistant. He told me that Liu was not feeling very well; he was upstairs, in the room where he keeps his more valuable items.

I found Liu there in a surly temper, complaining of a headache. He had closed the shutters in an attempt to keep out the stifling heat. In this semidarkness the familiar room seemed strange and hostile to me; I thought of leaving then and there. But remembering the heat outside, I decided that I had better tarry awhile and have Liu show me a few things. Thus I sat down in the large armchair, vigorously fanning myself with my fan of crane feathers.

Liu muttered something about not having anything special to show me. After having looked around aimlessly for a few moments, he took from a corner a black-lacquered mirror stand and placed it on the table before me.

When he had dusted it I saw that it was an ordinary cap mirror, that is to say a mirror of polished silver mounted on top of a square box. Such a mirror is used by officials for adjusting their black gauze caps on their heads. Judging by the tiny cracks that covered its lacquer frame, it seemed a fairly old specimen; but such are quite common and of slight value to the connoisseur.

Suddenly, however, my eye fell on a line of small characters inlaid in silver along the frame. Leaning forward I read:

Property of the Dee official residence, Poo-yang

With difficulty I suppressed an exclamation of astonished delight. For that must have been the cap mirror of no one else than our famous Judge Dee! I recalled that according to the ancient historical records Judge Dee, while serving as magistrate of Poo-yang, a small district in Kiangsu Province, had unraveled with uncanny skill at least three mysterious crimes. Unfortunately, however, the details of those exploits have not been preserved. Since the surname Dee is not commonly met with, it was certain that this cap mirror had indeed belonged to Judge Dee. All my lassitude had gone ...

The Chinese Bell Murders
A Judge Dee Detective Story
. Copyright © by Robert Van Gulik. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2014

    Good read

    I enjoyed this book very much. It gives some insight into the Chinese culture of the 1600's. I enjoyed trying to identify the villian before the author revealed who it was.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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