Saturday, September 15, 2012


In The Willow Pattern, Judge Dee is President of the Metropolitan Court, but also has been appointed emergency governor of the capitol city during a drought and plague. He's trying to maintain order and discipline in the city while it's half-deserted (the Emperor and many of the wealthy have left town), and naturally some interesting crimes rise up calling for his attention.

In "The Case of the Steep Staircase," a wealthy philanthropist is found dead after apparently falling down the stairs. But is it all that it seems? In "The Case of the Willow Pattern," a nobleman is found brutally murdered, the only clues being his sadistic, predatory habits, and a smashed vase in the now-familiar willow pattern. "The Case of the Murdered Bondmaid" is a retroactive case; a servant woman was beaten to death a generation ago; how is her death still influencing people today?

Dee is assisted by his lieutenants Ma Joong, Chiao Tai, and Tao Gan, since Hoong Liang was killed in the last book, The Chinese Nail Murders. Dee is much more The Man now; he is Imperial Authority in the city and is not to be questioned or messed with at all. And much of the action takes place in the milieu of the city's "old world," that of decadent noble families with pedigrees that predate the current dynasty...and all the sins that go with it. It's also notable for being the only Dee novel set in the oft-referenced capitol city. (Which is never named, by the way.)

It all ends well, except for one murder that Dee decides to not pursue, stating that he doesn't mind having a few unsolved cases on his record! Ma Joong falls in love and disappears from the series; we find out in the next (and last) book that he's married now. Still, it's a solid, good later work from van Gulik, and worth reading.

Coming soon: the final Dee novel, Murder in Canton.

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