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Deception: A Novel of Murder and Madness in T'ang China

Deception: A Novel of Murder and Madness in T'ang China

by Eleanor Cooney, Daniel Altieri

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This first-rate historical mystery by the authors of The Court of the Lion is absorbing from the very first sentence. Cooney and Altieri's ability to make the surroundings, events, and cast of characters believable renders the seventh century as vivid as our own. Judge Dee, familar to mystery fans through the novels of Dutch Sinologist Robert Van Gulik, has been brilliantly re-created and restored to his proper time period, the tumultuous reign of the sinister Chinese empress Wu. Surrounded by sycophantic Buddhist charlatans, the empress has initiated a reign of terror, murdering anyone--including and especially family--to achieve her ends. Dee is hard-pressed to maintain his logical Confucian outlook as external and internal threats imperil the empire. His hectic career as an assistant magistrate heats up further as he investigates a series of grisly ritualistic killings, which he believes to be related to a 50-year-old unsolved murder. At home, meanwhile, his two sons cause him mental and spiritual anguish. The many subplots work together to create a sophisticated tapestry of intrigue and ambition. The characters, from the evil empress and her hapless husband to the most minor of court functionaries, are depicted with an insight that reduces their historical and cultural distance from us. Historical novels of this quality are few and far between. (May)
Library Journal
This book's main characters, Magistrate Dee and Empress Wu Tse-tien, are historical figures who lived at a calamitous and well-recorded moment in seventh-century Chinese history. Dee is a detective whose investigation into the murder of the transport minister shows his intelligence, integrity, and faithfulness to traditional, rational Confucian principles. At the same time, Madame Wu, chief consort of Emperor Kao-tsung, schemes to depose his empress and wield absolute power as ruler of China. Eventually, Dee and Empress Wu are brought together. He discovers the truth of the numerous murders she has committed as she seeks to usurp the ancient T'ang dynasty and replace it with her own Chou dynasty, founded on a corrupt form of Buddhism that relies on magic, superstition, and deceit. This second novel about ancient China (following the authors' Court of the Lion , Avon, 1990) is recommended for popular collections.-- Mary Ann Parker, California Dept. of Water Resources Law Lib., Sacramento
Kirkus Reviews
From the authors of The Court of the Lion (1989): another wittily plotted and peopled, richly entertaining scan of base acts in high places in ancient China, this set during the seventh- century ascendancy and blistering reign of the Empress Wu. Meanwhile, ever so carefully circling amongst webs of deception and evil deeds is the sleuth/magistrate Dee Jen-Chieh (a real personage also seen in Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries series). "It is interesting to sit in the presence of a true killer," magistrate Dee will remark of the Empress Wu after his own days of turmoil are over. But long before his first one-on-one view of Wu, Dee is launched upon sleuthing an ever-accelerating series of crimes after he witnesses the execution of a pathetic, betrayed, simple gardener. And in the imperial city Loyang, the wee newborn daughter of the Lady Wu (consort of the Emperor Kaotsung), is dispatched by Mummy with suffocation. As the Lady Wu wafts upward toward Empress—thanks to the counsel of her mother, Mme. Yang; an icy, unclouded ambition; and tactical brilliance—various relatives, sons, and lovers—as well as an Emperor and his venerable powerful advisors—fall like sheaves. The intrigued magistrate, already involved in solving the murders of wealthy "suicides" found floating in the canal, suggests that Tibetan monk/magician Hsueh Huai-i spy in the palace Loyang. (The monk is also a real person—a Rasputin to the Empress.) Eventually, Hsueh blooms in royal favor and gains political control over all agencies of a state religion, encouraging a kind of extravagant practice of Buddhism—in the light of rationalist Confucianism, an "alien" excess. Hsueh, however,has an even darker obsession. Skillfully, Dee solves horrendous murders, escapes death himself, suffers his own awful family, lures the corrupt into his net—and, at the last, sees into the heart of Wu: "Like an ancient cave uninhabited for centuries, a stillness and emptiness...." In concept, balance, and wit: a simply splendid entertainment.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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1st ed

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