The Chinese Nail Murders: A Judge Dee Detective Story
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In the fourth installment of Robert Van Gulik's ancient Chinese mystery series based on historical court records, detective Judge Dee is appointed to the magistrate of Pei-chow -- a distant frontier district in the barren north of the ancient Chinese Empire. It is here that he is faced with three strange and disturbing crimes: the theft of precious jewels, the disappearance of a girl in love, and the fiendish murder involving the nude, headless body of a woman. And even more curious, the crimes seem to be linked together by clues from a popular game of the period, the Seven Board.
"A delight to the connoisseur" (San Francisco Chronicle), The Chinese Nail Murders was first published in the 1950s. Timeless and exotic, it is now reissued by Perennial and includes charming illustrations and an epilogue that details the origins of each case and how the author discovered them.
insignificant person," Pan Feng said in a calm voice, "is called Pan Feng, an antique dealer by profession." "Why did you leave town the day before yesterday?" the judge asked. "A farmer from Five Rams Village, outside the northern city gate," Pan replied, "had come to see me a few days before and told me that while digging a hole in his field for burying horse dung, he had found an old bronze tripod. I know that eight hundred years ago, under the Han Dynasty, Five Rams Village was the site of
Chiao Tai with his burning eyes. After a few moments' thought he said harshly to them: "Listen carefully! Tomorrow at dawn you will ride to Five Rams Village. Take Chu Ta-yuan with you, he knows many short cuts. Go to the village inn, and ask for a full description of the man who met Pan Feng there when he was staying at that inn. Then come back straight to the tribunal here, together with Chu Ta-yuan. Have you got that?" As his two lieutenants nodded, the judge added in a forlorn voice:
trying days that lay ahead. Twenty-second Chapter: JUDGE DEE RECEIVES AN UNEXPECTED VISIT; HE DECIDES TO CONDUCT A SECOND AUTOPSY Judge Dee rose and walked over to the brazier. As he was standing there warming his hands, he heard the door open behind him. Annoyed at the disturbance he turned around. Then he saw that Mrs. Kuo had come in. He gave her a quick smile, and said kindly: "I am very busy just now, Mrs. Kuo. If there is anything of importance, you can report to the senior scribe."
here," she said quietly. "I was waiting for you." When the judge remained standing silently in front of her, she went on quickly: "Look, your robes are all dirty, and your boots are covered with mud! Have you been there?" "Yes," Judge Dee answered slowly, "I went there, together with Ma Joong. That old murder must be investigated by the tribunal." Her eyes grew wide. The judge looked past her, desperately seeking for words. She drew the cloak close around her. "I knew this would happen,"
the study of Chinese language and history, namely when in 1940 I came upon an anonymous Chinese detective novel of the eighteenth century.* (* I am proud to share the credit for having discovered the merits of old Chinese detective novels with so eminent an expert on crime literature as Vincent Starrett. That excellent storyteller became interested in the subject during his sojourn in China, and wrote the delightful essay "Some Chinese Detective Stories," found in his Bookman's Holiday, the