Judge Dee, Master of Mystery


Hi, all!

While I’m in the final edits of my sequel, here’s a re-post you may enjoy – back when I was doing mystery quizzes along with my detective profiles!

Welcome to Masters of Mystery, where we feature a fictional detective and examine his or her unique contribution to the mystery genre.  You are invited to challenge yourself with a short detective quiz, and see the answers to the previous week’s quiz.

Today we’re going back in time, to Ancient China:

Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee

Some interesting facts about Robert Van Gulik and Judge Dee:

1.  Van Gulik, who was raised in Indonesia and held a doctorate in Asian studies, got the idea to start his own series after he translated an 18th century collection of Chinese mystery stories, which he titled “The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee” (1949).

2.  Judge Dee Goong An is based on 7th century historical figure Di Renjie, a magistrate of the court during the T’ang dynasty.

3.  Van Gulik wanted to make sure his character could be objective and not part of crony politics, so he made him a newcomer to his district, without connections.  This also ensures additional complications in that Dee doesn’t know who to trust among his associates.

4.  The series is actually anachronistic, as it is supposed to take place during the T’ang dynasty (7th century), but all of the laws and culture described belong to the Ming dynasty (14th century).  Van Gulik did this on purpose, following the custom of early Chinese fiction.  There was an advantage, too, in that much more is known about the Ming than the T’ang dynasty.


Why we like Judge Dee and the stories:

1.  We get a glimpse into another world.  Besides the backdrop, we’re reading about different customs, laws, and ways of thinking.

2.  Despite the differences, the baser human motives for crime remain the same:  lust, greed, fear, revenge.

3.  From a puzzle-mystery perspective, the series is cleverly done, and quite satisfying in the solutions.

4.  Dee has three wives.  Rather than that making him a randy character, however, we see him as a put-upon male who’s outnumbered in his household.  Sometimes he just has to escape the rampant femininity going on.

5.  Dee is smart, ethical…and merciful.  Most of the punishments in Dee’s time called for death by some form of torture, such as slow slicing.  Judge Dee would order that the fatal “slice” be made first.


Beyond the books:  television and gaming

The Judge Dee books were made into a short-lived tv series in 1969 (1 season, 6 episodes).  Click here, on the  IMDb site for more details.

The clip below is from a 1974 television movie “Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders,” which starred a really cool cast:  James Hong (Kung Fu Panda, Mulan, and a ton of television appearances), Khigh Dhiegh (best known as villain Wo Fat in the original tv series Hawaii Five-O), and Mako (McHale’s Navy, M*A*S*H, The Sand Pebbles).

In addition, CGO Play (PC games) created a computer game, called Judge Dee: the City God Case.

still shot from youtube.com


Links for more info:


Rechter Tie’s Judge Dee

Judge Dee by historical novelist Catherine Delors

Want the answers to the last quiz?

Do you know your plots?  Match the four plots described below with the correct title of the novel.  I’ve thrown in an extra choice to challenge you.

1.  Ten people who don’t know each other arrive on a private island by invitation.  The host never makes an appearance, all connection to the outside world is severed, and one by one, guests start dying in odd ways.  c.  And Then There Were None, also titled “Ten Little Indians”

2.  The wife of a politically powerful husband is concealing numerous affairs from him.  To protect her secret, she lies and swears the detective was at the murder scene.  Now he must discover the real killer in order to clear his name. e.  The Case of the Velvet Claws (Perry Mason)

3.  A precious gem is found in the crop of the detective’s Christmas goose, and he is determined to find out how it got there, and return it. d.  “The Blue Carbuncle”  (Sherlock Holmes)

4.  The detective searches for a hidden will, in order to restore a family in financial difficulty as the rightful heirs to a fortune. b.  The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew)


a. Vengeance is Mine – a Mike Hammer novel

b.  The Secret of the Old Clock

c.  And Then There Were None

d.  “The Blue Carbuncle”

e.  The Case of the Velvet Claws

Be your own “Master of Mystery”: take this week’s quiz!

Can you match the nemesis for each detective/spy?  (Again, I’m throwing in an extra choice to challenge you!)

1.  Sam Spade

2.  Sherlock Holmes

3.  Perry Mason

4.  James Bond


a.  Professor Moriarty


c.  Caspar Gutman

d.  Hannibal Lecter

e.  Hamilton Burger


Hope you’re getting a kick out of the quizzes.  Have you read the Judge Dee stories?  What favorite detective would you like to see featured here?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,



2 people like this post.

6 thoughts on “Judge Dee, Master of Mystery”

  1. Paul OwenPaul Owen

    I had never heard of Judge Dee, but he sounds even more fascinating that Charlie Chan.

    Still not 100% on last week’s quiz, but I think I can actually get this week’s quiz right. Sometimes watching television pays off!

    Great post as always, Kathy!

  2. Paul OwenPaul Owen

    (At the risk of spoiling this week’s quiz for anybody else) The quiz would have been even more challenging if you’d replaced “SPECTER” with “Ernst Stavro Blofeld” as one of the options…

  3. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    Wow, I’ve really never heard of Judge Dee. Thanks for teaching me, Kathy!

  4. Marian AllenMarian Allen

    I *love* Judge Dee! I thought I was the only person who knew about him! 🙂

  5. August McLaughlinAugust McLaughlin

    Love the quiz, Kathy! Such a cool idea. I’m at a loss except for all things Hannibal Lector. 😉

    Best of luck with those final edits! Always exciting to near the finish line, right?


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