Murder in Canton (Judge Dee Mysteries, Book 13)

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Early in his career, Judge Dee visits a senior magistrate who shows him a beautiful lacquer screen on which a scene of lovers has been mysteriously altered to show the man stabbing his lover. The magistrate fears he is losing his mind and will murder his own wife. Meanwhile, a banker has inexplicably killed himself, and a lovely lady has allowed Dee's lieutenant, Chiao Tai, to believe she is a courtesan. Dee and Chiao Tai go incognito among a gang of robbers to solve this mystery, and find the leader of the robbers is more honorable than the magistrate.

Disguised as a petty crook, he spends a couple of precarious days in the headquarters of the underworld, hobnobbing with the robber king. Dee's lively thieving friends furnish some vital clues to this strange and fascinating jigsaw. He drew his plots from the whole body of Chinese literature, especially from the popular detective novels that first appeared in the seventeenth century.

Murder in Canton

In the second, Dee is traveling to the imperial capital to assume a new position when he is separated from his escort by a flood. Marooned in a large country house surrounded by fierce bandits, Dee confronts an apparition that helps him solve a mystery. Written by a Dutch diplomat and scholar during the s and s, these lively and historically accurate mysteries have entertained a devoted following for decades. Set during the T'ang dynasty, they feature Judge Dee, a brilliant and cultured Confucian magistrate disdainful of personal luxury and corruption, who cleverly selects allies to help him navigate the royal courts, politics, and ethnic tensions in imperial China.

Robert van Gulik modeled Judge Dee on a magistrate of that name who lived in the seventh century, and he drew on stories and literary conventions of Chinese mystery writing dating back to the Sung dynasty to construct his ingenious plots. Murder in Canton takes place in the year , as Judge Dee, recently promoted to lord chief justice, is sent incognito to Canton to investigate the disappearance of a court censor. With the help of his trusted lieutenants Chiao Tai and Tao Gan, and that of a clever blind girl who collects crickets, Dee solves a complex puzzle of political intrigue and murder through the three separate subplots "the vanished censor," "the Smaragdine dancer," and "the Golden Bell.


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Necklace and Calabash finds Judge Dee returning to his district of Poo-yang, where the peaceful town of Riverton promises a few days' fishing and relaxation. Yet a chance meeting with a Taoist recluse, a gruesome body fished out of the river, strange guests at the Kingfisher Inn, and a princess in distress thrust the judge into one of the most intricate and baffling mysteries of his career.

An expert on the art and erotica as well as the literature, religion, and politics of China, van Gulik also provides charming illustrations to accompany his engaging and entertaining mysteries.

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Judge Dee presided over his imperial Chinese court with a unique brand of Confucian justice. A near mythic figure in China, he distinguished himself as a tribunal magistrate, inquisitor, and public avenger. Long after his death, accounts of his exploits were celebrated in Chinese folklore, and later immortalized by Robert van Gulik in his electrifying mysteries. A dozen bare-backed coolies were unloading the foreign ship moored a little further on alongside the river quay, opposite the arched gate of the custom-house. Bent under heavy bales, they trudged down the gangway to the measure of a mournful catch-song.

The four guards at the gate had pushed their spiked helmets back from their perspiring brows. Leaning heavily on their long halberds, they followed the work with bored eyes. There goes the ship we came down the river on this morning! He pointed to the dark mass that came looming up out of the mist, beyond the masts of the other craft moored next to the foreign ship. The black war junk was being rowed with great speed to the estuary of the Pearl River, its brass gongs clanging to warn off the small boats of the river hawkers. But you and I have to stay behind in this god-forsaken city, with orders to assess the situation!

Hell, there's another drop running down my neck. As if this blasted humid heat isn't making me sweat enough already! He pulled the collar of his jacket closer round his thick boxer's neck, at the same time taking good care to conceal the coat of mail he was wearing underneath, with the golden badge of a colonel of the Imperial Guard, a round plaque consisting of two intertwined dragons.

Then he asked testily, 'Do you know what it's all about, brother Tao? The lean man sadly shook his grey head. Tugging at the three long hairs that sprouted from the wart on his cheek, he replied slowly:.

The Lacquer Screen (1962) by Robert Van Gulik

Must be important, though. Else he wouldn't have left the capital so suddenly, and rushed down here with us, first on horseback, then on that fast war junk. There must be trouble brewing here in Canton. Ever since our arrival this morning, I have He was interrupted by a loud splash.

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Two coolies had let a bale drop into the muddy strip of water between the ship and the quay. A white-turbaned figure jumped down from the deck and began to kick the coolies, shouting at them in a foreign tongue.

The bored custom-guards suddenly came to life. One stepped forward and with a quick swing of his halberd let its flat side thud down on the shoulders of the cursing Arab. The Arab gripped the hilt of the dagger in his red belt. A dozen white-gowned men jumped from the ship, and drew their long curved swords. As the coolies let their bales drop and scurried away, the four guards levelled their halberds at the cursing sailors.


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Suddenly iron boots resounded on the cobblestones. Twenty soldiers came marching through the gate of the custom-house. With the ease of long practice they surrounded the angry Arabs and herded them at spearpoint back towards the edge of the quay. A tall thin Arab with a beaked nose leaned over the railing of the ship, and began to harangue the sailors in a strident voice. They sheathed their swords and climbed on board again. The coolies resumed their work as if nothing had happened.

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And two more are lying in the estuary, outward bound. Add the Arabs who've settled down ashore, and you get a couple of thousand, I'd say. And that wretched inn of yours is smack in the middle of the Moslem quarter! A fine place for getting a knife in your back at night! My hostel is nothing to crow about either, but being right outside the south gate, the guards are at least within calling distance. Well, don't you think we've been hanging about here long enough? The drizzle is getting worse. Let's go and sample the stuff over there. He pointed to the end of the quay where a shadowy figure was lighting the red lantern of a wine-house.

And I can't speak the language either. Hurrying over the slippery cobblestones, they did not notice a shabbily dressed, bearded man, who now left the shelter of the godown further along the quay and followed them.

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Arriving at the end of the quay, Chiao Tai saw that the bridge across the moat by the Kueite city gate was crowded with people. Clad in straw raincoats, they bustled along, each intent on his own business. He pulled the patched door-curtain aside and they entered a dim, cavernous taproom.

They were met by the smell of stale garlic and salted fish. The smoking oil lamps dangling from the low rafters threw their uncertain light on a few score guests, huddling in groups of four or five round small tables. They were busily talking in undertones. No one seemed to pay the slightest attention to the two newcomers.

When the two men were seating themselves at an empty table near the window, the bearded man who had been following them came in. He went straight to the rear, to a worn wooden counter where the innkeeper was heating pewter winejugs in a basin of boiling water. Tao Gan told the waiter in good Cantonese to bring them two large jugs. While they were waiting, Chiao Tai put his elbows on the greasy table top and glumly surveyed the guests.

Can't understand how I missed that ugly mug when I came in! With eight illustrations drawn by the author in Chinese style.

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New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, First American edition Bound in yellow cloth with figure on horseback stamped in gold on the front board, red lettering on the spine, illustrated endpapers and pastedowns. First printing of the More about The Lacquer Screen. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons [], With twelve illustrations drawn by the author in Chinese style. The thirteenth novel published in the Judge Dee Mystery series, based on political events during the Tang A Judge Dee mystery with eight illustrations drawn by the author in Chinese style.

Near Fine book with a few spots of discoloration and foxing to top of textblock and Based on the life and history of Judge Dee, a historical figure who lived during With nine illustrations drawn by the author in Chinese style.