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Book Review: The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee

The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee is a popular Chinese fiction written in eighteenth century. It has been translated into English for the whole world to read by Robert Van Gulik and it displays a very interesting perspective of how the Chinese loved their detective novels and the judicial system of the Middle Kingdom. Just as we Indians had and loved Birbal, Naseeruddin Khwaja, and England Sherlock Homes; similarly every country has a favorite detective fiction character. Though this trend is quite among English writers, well China was no exception either.


After reading this book, readers will have a broader perspective and understanding about the tenacity and peculiarities associate with Chinese detective fiction.

Basic details like name of the criminal, background, and hereditary details are found explained in the very first chapter.  Then the game of chase begins between the investigator and the criminal. Readers will know the puzzles but in pieces, as they read they come to know about their sequence and order of importance.

To make the stories fascinating involvement of supernatural elements is inevitable, like spirits interference, presence of foxes in the court as a witness, even the kitchen crockery speaks out.

The Chinese will want to see justice meted out in all its sanguinary details: no disappearing behind bars or hanging from the noose. The criminal must pay his dues in this world; his spirit will appear purified and contrite and move on to the Wheel of Time and Rebirth.

The judge on the other hand is an investigator, sifter of witness, chaser of the criminal, interrogator and dispenser of justice. Does he have a free hand, perpetrators can be beaten, victims can be threatened, witnesses can be tortured but bear in mind he too is answerable and God forbid and if he ruled wrong then his title and even life are both subject to penalty.

Imagine these cases where criminals are masterminds and yet commonplace in their lives, judges are kind but ruthless, spirits and animals play games of life and death and the Wheel of Time turns inexorably. No wonder, why people love oriental historical and fantasy fiction.

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