Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries are set in the Tang Dynasty.The Chinese Lake Murders takes place in 666A.D.; however, the clothing, customs and culture are of the Ming Dynasty, 1368—1644. This is in keeping with Chinese folk tales which are filled with anachronisms. A story is often set in the past, but is filled with details from a different era. Gulik, a Dutch diplomat and statesman, used data from old Chinese crime literature to give his book an authentic feel.
Judge Dee is based on a real judge, Di Renjie, who was a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court—630—700).
In the Chinese Lake Murders Judge Dee is the Magistrate of Han-yuan, a mountain district sixty miles from the capital. Since he is newly assigned to the district he brings an objective viewpoint and this enables him to look at all aspects of the three interlocked cases. The crimes include the disappearance of a girl on her bridal night, the murder of a courtesan and even a theft. Including three cases was in keeping with Chinese detective literature.
Add to this there is the enigma of clues embedded in a chess puzzle. According to Gulik the crimes in this novel are based on historical court records. In addition to the unraveling of all these puzzling cases Gulik creates the atmosphere of ancient China.
Gulik was an avid student of Chinese literature and history and as a statesman was at on point stationed in China. "While in Chongqing he married a Chinese woman (Shui Shifang), the daughter of an Imperial mandarin (under the Manchu Dynasty)."
Mystery & Suspense Challenge 2011
Vintage Mystery Challenge