Saturday, January 24, 2015

End of Rain

"Oh shit, it's dim sum time!"
"True Crime - Streets of LA"

I know some people like to collect their books from the same publisher / with the same style. With English releases, you can often choose between (at least) an UK and US release, so sometimes you gotta pay attention when purchasing books. I myself usually don't mind what edition I get, by the way. Still, I find it quite surprising to see that even though I own less than ten Judge Dee novels, they come from like four or five different publishers...

The Chinese Gold Murders was about Judge Dee's first appointment as a town magistrate in ancient China, but by the time of Robert van Gulik's Murder in Canton, Judge Dee has worked his way all the way up to Lord Chief Justice. Only special cases can bring the judge and his subordinates outside the Imperial City, and the disappearance of a court censor is such a case. Judge Dee and two of his faithful fellows Chiao Tai and Tao Gan, make their way to the southern harbor city of Canton, where the censor was last seen. The search for the censor is made difficult because of the delicate political and social circumstances of Canton: many Arabs reside in the city for the trade, as well as a great number of the Tanka people. Can the judge find out what happened to the censor?

I should probably do some research on books before purchasing them, rather than just going by the cover. I was unaware that Murder in Canton would be (chronologically) the last in the series. I haven't read the Judge Dee books in order, and it's not really necessary to do so (in fact, I read them criss-cross), but I had kinda wanted to keep this book for last. But ah well...

To be honest, I found Murder in Canton to be one of the less entertaining novels in the series. Sure, the basic premise is still the same, even if Judge Dee is in a higher position now: like always, he's new in town, he has his small group of subordinates with him and he gets involved with three mysteries that end up connected. No surprises there. Well, except for the fact that because Murder in Canton is set so late in the Judge's career, some of his faithful followers have other obligations that prevent them from joining Dee on his new mission (but that happened in some other novels too).

I wasn't too charmed by the novel's mysteries though. All the Dee books are about the Judge investigating multiple mysteries at the same time (because it wouldn't make sense for the highest judicial and investigating official in a district to work on only one case at a time) and the first couple of books had these mysteries intertwine in suprising ways. But these mysteries, even though connected at some level, were often seperate storylines. Murder in Canton is promoted again as being a story of the Judge investigating three cases, but it is clear right from the start that these aren't three storylines that happen to be connected, they are all one and the same plot, just different ends and I wonder why Van Gulik so desperatedly tried to sell it as three mysteries again.

Of course, this wouldn't be a problem per se, but I thought that the (single) story of the disappeared censor was a bit chaotic and boring. Coincidence has always been a staple of the Judge Dee series, but Fate must have had a very busy day with Murder in Canton, and the story seems to meander a bit aimlessly in the middle part of the book. Also, some stories might work with midget assassins and foreign assassins and I'll admit that at least the special setting of Canton makes it somewhat more plausible, but still, I had to raise an eyebrow (figuratively speaking. I can't actually...). The confrontation at the end of the story is a great effort at bringing the cool logic of a Van Dine school novel in an usually more vague, intuition-based series, but it lacks a bit of convincing power, both seen as a 'logical' deduction scene, as well as a classic 'Judge Dee' confrontation scene.

I liked the multi-cultural aspect of Murder in Canton though, something also seen in some of the other novels (like The Chinese Maze Murders). And atmosphere and random trivia on ancient China is something Van Gulik, a famed Sinologist, always excelled in and he delivers in this novel too. No worries about that.

Overall I'd say I thought Murder in Canton was a mediocre Judge Dee story. It has some points that make it special, especially as it's set as the last novel and thus ties up some of the characters overarching storylines, but as a standalone mystery novel, I thought it a bit disappointing compared to earlier efforts.


  1. Hello, sorry to bother you
    can you tell me what these detective mangas are please?

    They look interesting but I have no idea what the titles or the story are

    1. You do know that you linked to a Chinese site, not a Japanese one? Anyway, I found the original titles, but I know nothing about any of these titles.

      44116 -> Mononoke Mystery.
      43479 -> Dare mo shiranai tou no aru machi.
      41557 -> Chou suinou Kei.
      37897 -> Kaden tantei wa shizuka ni warau.
      36711 -> Fukashigi Philia.
      34546 -> Shounen Tantei Q.