Judge Dee and his four helpers solve the murders of an honored merchant, a kindly boxing master, and a paper merchant's wife, whose corpse has no head. They succeed in spite of strong pressure on Judge Dee from higher-ups to bring his investigation, which has temporarily generated unrest among the populace, rapidly to an end or face dismissal and serious punishment. The case of the headless corpse is based on a thirteenth-century Chinese casebook; the nail murder, one of the most famous motifs in Chinese crime literature, is first described in the same text.
"So scrupulously in the classic Chinese manner yet so nicely equipped with everything to satisfy the modern reader."--New York Times
Robert Van Gulik (1910-67) was a Dutch diplomat and an authority on Chinese history and culture. He drew his plots from the whole body of Chinese literature, especially from the popular detective novels that first appeared in the seventeenth century.