(E-)Book Read! THE CHINESE MAZE MURDERS by Robert Van Gulik

Title: The Chinese Maze Murders: A Judge Dee Mystery

Author: Robert Van GulikThe Chinese Maze Murders

Publication date: 1950

Original Language: English

Read in: English

Number of Pages: 284


Where From: The University of Chicago Press

Three stars

First sentence: “Judge Dee leaned back in his chair.”

P. 99: “Chien stared at the judge with burning eyes.”

Last sentence: “He swung himself in the saddle and rode back to the city.”

From Wikipedia: The Chinese Maze Murders is a detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China. It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie – chin: 狄仁傑), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700. However, van Gulik’s novel is set not in the Tang, but in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), society and customs depicted in the book reflect this period.

This was the first of the fictional mystery stories written by Robert van Gulik. It was based on three actual cases from Chinese criminal investigations.

Judge Dee is the magistrate in the fictional border town of Lan-fang. He confronts three mysteries involving poisoned plums, a mysterious scroll picture, passionate love letters, a hidden murder, and a ruthless robber. These are all somehow linked to the Governor’s garden maze.

When you are looking for a fun and relaxing summer-read, you could read this book (although there are some explicit violence scenes).  Judge Dee is an amiable person who reminds me strangely enough a lot of Georges Simenons Maigret character, not only in his relations with other people, but also in the way he solves his cases.  There are three cases that demand his attention during the first week after his arrival in Lan-fang (The Case of the Murder in the Sealed Room, The Case of the Hidden Testament and The Case of the Girl with the Severed Head), and they are strangely interwoven with each other.

And of course he solves them all.

I did enjoy the book, but I thought the characters remained a bit flat.  It was as if they were all caricatures: the pensive judge, the nonchalant artist, the loyal servant, the violent soldier, etc.



  1. Sounds like one of those ’50s/’60s easy reads that were (in the Netherlands at least) printed more like a cheap magazine. I used to read some of them in the ’70s.

    • It was a nice relaxing read, Judith, although it felt a bit dated. It could be that these stories were published in magazine form, but I don’t know.
      Thanks for your comment!

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