I like to read classics, historical fiction and world lit. Oh and I love short stories.
A highly enjoyable detective set in ancient China. Robert van Gulik definitely made me interested in reading more in this genre. He bases his stories on an old Chinese genre of writing detective stories, which revolve around the magistrate: a government official who was in charge of justice. He was the detective and the judge in one.
The story is streamlined to revolve around the mysteries, with the historical and cultural context as a background. Therefore, unlike historical novels pure sang, all historical details which are unnecessary for the story to be told are left out. It is therefore an action-packed, quick and enjoyable read.
However, it in no way suffers from a lack of historical grounding. Gulik has done his research and his knowledge of ancient China, as well as the original Chinese detective stories, shows. His main character is a known historical figure from the Tang dynasty and he has done considerable research for his character and his cases, as well as the court and police proceedings of the time. Furthermore, the afterword explains how Gulik used several narrative elements in the original Chinese detective stories.
My only squabble with the book is that the language, especially in the beginning, was a tad old fashioned and therefore it took some time to get into the story. As my edition is rather old (1957), that might not be an issue in later translations and reprints. That being said, I greatly enjoyed the drawings made by the author which were included in my copy.