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The Haunted Monastery: A Judge Dee Mystery Paperback – June 1, 1997
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This Judge Dee mystery finds the Chinese investigator trying to solve a murder of a Taoist monastery's abbot.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"If you have not yet discovered Judge Dee, I envy you that initial pleasure." - Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times "The China of old, in Mr. van Gulik's skilled hands, comes vividly alive again." - Allen J. Hubin, New York Times Book Review"
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Top Customer Reviews
Dutch diplomat and sinologist Robert Hans van Gulik (1910-67) apparently wrote 16 fiction & 1 translation of the exploits of historical Judge Dee (630-700 AD). He includes a short "Postcript" @ the end of most--worth reading 1st--esp. if it's your 1st one--woodcut type drawings/maps which greatly enhance the volumes and, in the novels, a "Dramatis Personae" list--especially valuable since it's divided up by case (most have 3 cases/book). The Postscript to "The Chinese Nail Murders" describes the author's approach to them--mostly based on old Chinese documents & their conventions towards magistrates--though he modernizes them somewhat. "Judge Dee at Work" includes a valuable chronology with dates. Usually a Magistrate spent ~3 years in a district & then transferred: Peng-Lai=663-6 AD, Han-Yuan=666-668, Poo-Yang=668-670, Lan-Fang=670-676, Pei-Chow=676-677, and (after promotion) to the Capital=677-700).
THE SERIES INCLUDES:
18 Judge Dee books (in alphabetical order with date): Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (the one translation), The Chinese Bell Murders=668 AD, The Chinese Gold Murders=663, The Chinese Lake Murders=666, The Chinese Maze Murders=670, The Chinese Nail Murders=676, The Emperor's Pearl=668, The Haunted Monastery=666, Judge Dee at Work=663-70, The Lacquer Screen=663, The Monkey & the Tiger=666 & 676, Murder in Canton=681, Murder in Ancient China, Necklace & Calabash, The Phantom of the Temple, Poets & Murder, The Red Pavilion=668, and The Willow Pattern=677. Of the 18 books one is redundant, one is a translation, and the other 16 are fictional works by van Gulik. Interestingly, the 1st fiction books (The Chinese ____ Murders) were written in the order: Bell, Maze, Lake, Nail and Gold, but chronologically (in the fictional world) are ordered: Gold, Lake, Bell, Maze, & Nail. The short stories are chronologically interspersed with the novels.
THIS INDIVIDUAL VOLUME: (Others reviewers have already described the plot)
This particular book is one of the many published in 1961 by the University of Chicago Press. It's a rather short one (the initial 5 "Chinese _____ Murders" were longer. It's the 13th I've read so far. Like some modern detective novels, the obvious solution is not usually correct and with Dee there's a partial solution that misleads readers until the non-obvious (though usually discernible if you're very careful of details) complete solution at the end. I did identify the true culprit fairly early in this one, though he isn't necessarily obvious. There are also mysteries within mysteries and unusually, Dee serves as a matchmaker as well as the representative/personification of justice. Similar to several other Dee books, the Judge is traveling and forced to stay at the forbidding Taoist monastery. Usually, Dee is very Confucian & anti-Taoism (almost as much as he's anti-Buddhism), but in this book van Gulik includes some explication of Taoism that Dee finds agreeable:
pp. 71-3: "'The circle shows how, when Positive reaches its lowest ebb, it merges with Negative, and how when Negative attains its zenith it naturally changes into Positive at its lowest point. The supreme doctrine of Tao, Dee, expressed in one single symbol.' 'What is the meaning of these two dots inside each half?' Judge Dee asked, interested despite himself. 'It means that Positive harbors the germ of Negative, and vice versa. That applies to all natural phenomena, including man and woman. You'll know that every man has in his nature a feminine element [Jung's anima], and every woman a masculine strain.' [Jung's animus] 'That's quite true!' the Judge said pensively."
Interestingly, Dee only has one of his assistants, Tao Gan, making him physically vulnerable and his wives have a bigger part to play than is usual for them. These several situations make this novel spooky & intriguing. He also shows how, despite his strong theoretical commitment to the law, he can be quite practical regarding justice:
p. 95: To let everybody arrange his private life as he likes, provided he doesn't injure others or prejudice legally defined relationships--that is the spirit of our society and the laws that govern it.
p. 189: The instruction to requite bad with good belongs to a better age than we are living in now.
pp. 191-2: We must not wantonly destroy people's lives. Too many already do their utmost to destroy their own, all by themselves.
TYPE OF MYSTERY:
Dee stories are more straight mystery vs. action/adventure/thriller, though some action does take place--including personal danger. If you enjoy Golden Age Mysteries (e.g. Sayers, Christie, Marsh, Allingham, Tey), you'll probably enjoy the Dee books--I'll read all. They usually have less social commentary, flowery description, political intrigue, & physical action than contemporary "mysteries" but do provide insightful cultural descriptions/incidents--perhaps why I like them better--though they're not always historically accurate--per van Gulik's Postscripts. Unlike the West, most desribe the punishment of the criminals.
OTHER ORIENTAL MYSTERIES:
If you are particularly interested in Oriental mysteries, you might try Ingrid J. (I.J.) Parker's ~11th century Japan Sugawara Akitada mysteries, Laura Joh Rowland's ~18th c. Japan Sano Ichiro mysteries, and/or James Melville's more contemporary Japan Superintendent Otani mysteries.
So when he's forced to take shelter with his family in a remote Buddhist monastery in the mountains, he's predisposed not to like the place. And it certainly is creepy, a rabbit warren of gloomy passageways, elegant chambers, monk's cells, courtyards, towers, and stairways. There's a locked Gallery of Horrors, a frequent feature in Taoist monasteries. And there's a bottomless ravine on one side of the structure. Ghosts are said to walk on stormy nights, and this is a very stormy night!
For a split second Dee sees a scene of horror in a window across from his room. Are the ghosts trying to tell him something? This is the beginning of a long night of perilous adventure for the judge. Dee`s been wanting to investigate this monastery in any case, because three young women, would-be nuns, died there suspiciously the year before.
This book has a really terrific plot and great characters: young men in love, young women in danger, hypocrites and holy men, a colorful troupe of actors and a performing bear with a bad temper. And the devious and deviant villain is a real challenge to Dee's powers of observation and deduction.
There are charming passages with Dee and his three lovely, agreeable wives. And although Dee declares in this book that he has no sense of humor, he indulges quite often in wry wit.
This may be my favorite Judge Dee mystery. But they're all wonderful. I'm on my second reading of the series.
Through surfing Amazon.com, I found out at least sixteen of the series were reprinted in the recent past; so I am rereading them 38 years later! This book, The Haunted Monastery, is set in the Chinese Ming period, and the plates of costumes and customs are representative of the Ming era.
Judge Dee actually lived from A.D. 630 to 700, but the stories in this series of books are fiction.
The writing in The Haunted Monastery is easy to read, but the mystery is complicated. Clues to who the murderers might be are given in several of the pictures. And it is fun to try to guess who did what and why.
The author is an expert on Chinese culture and history. He was a Dutch Diplomat who lived in China.
From the stories and the plates, one learns about Confucian and Tao ethics and philosophy. I am finding the entire Judge Dee series delightful reading. I am enjoying them even more now than I did in the past!