Robert Hans van Gulik (August 9, 1910 – September 24, 1967) was a highly educated orientalist, diplomat, musician (of the guqin) and writer, best known for the Judge Dee mysteries. Van Gulik grew up in Indonesia where he was tutored in Mandarin. He joined the Dutch Foreign Service in 1935 and was stationed in various countries: Japan, China, India and Lebanon during the 1958 Civil War there. From 1965 until his death of cancer in 1967 he was ambassador to Japan.
Judge Dee (or Judge Di) is the hero of Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” series. These fictional novels deal with cases in ancient China, all solved by the upright Judge Dee (note: in ancient Chinese crime stories, judges are often in the role of the detective.) The Judge Dee character is based on the historical figure Ti Jen-chieh (c. 630–c. 700), magistrate and statesman of the T’ang court. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China, a “folk novel” was written set in former times, but filled with anachronisms.
Van Gulik found in Dee Goong An an original tale dealing with two cases simultaneously, and, which was unusual among Chinese mystery tales, a plot that for the most part lacked an overbearing supernatural element which could alienate Western readers. He translated it into English under the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (first published in Tokyo in 1949). Thanks to his translation of this largely forgotten work, van Gulik became interested in Chinese detective fiction. To the translation he appended an essay on the genre in which he suggested that it was easy to imagine rewriting some of the old Chinese case histories with an eye toward modern readers. Not long afterward he himself tried his hand at creating a detective story along these lines. This became the book The Chinese Maze Murders (completed around 1950). As van Gulik thought the story would have more interest to Japanese and Chinese readers, he had it translated into Japanese by a friend (finished in 1951), and it was sold in Japan under the title Meiro-no-satsujin. With the success of the book, van Gulik produced a translation into Chinese, which was published by a Singapore book publisher in 1953. The reviews were good, and Van Gulik wrote two more books (The Chinese Bell Murders and The Chinese Lake Murders) over the next few years, also with an eye toward Japanese and then Chinese editions. Next, Van Gulik found a publisher for English versions of the stories, and the first such version was published in 1957. Later books were written and published in English first; the translations came afterwards.
“Judge Dee” bibliography: Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, translation of the Chinese Dee Goong An (1941–1948); The Chinese Maze Murders (written 1950, published in Japanese in 1951, published in English in 1956); The Chinese Bell Murders (written 1953–1956, published 1958); The Chinese Lake Murders (written 1953–1956, published 1960); The Chinese Gold Murders (written 1956, published 1959); The Chinese Nail Murders (written 1958, published 1961); “New Year’s Eve in Lan-Fang” [1958; separately published short story in 200 copies as a New Year’s gift from van Gulik]; The Haunted Monastery (written 1958–1959, published 1961); The Red Pavilion (written 1958–1959, published 1961); The Lacquer Screen (written 1958–1959, published 1962); The Emperor’s Pearl (1963); “De Nacht van de Tijger”(1963), written in Dutch, short story, as “The Night of the Tiger” included in The Monkey and the Tiger; “Vier vingers” (1964), written in Dutch as Boekenweekgeschenk, short story, as “The Morning of the Monkey” included in The Monkey and the Tiger; The Monkey and the Tiger, two short novels (1965); The Willow Pattern (1965; Murder in Canton (1966); The Phantom of the Temple (1966); Judge Dee at Work, short stories (1967); Necklace and Calabash (1967); and Poets and Murder (1968). (Source: Excerpts from Wikipedia)
- Biographical notes (Source: Robert van Gulik: his life, his work by Janwillem van de Wetering)
- Chronology of Judge Dee Novels by Robert van Gulik
- Forgotten authors no. 26: Robert van Gulik by Christopher Fowler (Independent 8 March 2009)
- Ho-Ling’s articles on Robert van Gulick are at Where I write about detective fiction
- TomCat’s articles on Robert van Gulik are at Beneath the Stains of Time
- Kate Jackson’s articles on Robert van Gulik are at Cross-Examining Crime
- Les Blatt’s article on Robert van Gulik is at Classic Mysteries
I’ll follow TomCat’s advice who recommends starting with The Chinese Gold Murders. The book has everything: it functions as Dee’s origin story, suggestive touches of the supernatural and a good locked room mystery with an overall plot that was a lot tighter than The Chinese Maze Murders [the first book in the series]
From Wikipedia: The Chinese Gold Murders is a gong’an historical mystery novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700. The book includes a map of the fictional town of Peng-lai.
Overview: In this, the second book in Robert van Gulik’s classic mystery series of ancient China, Judge Dee must look into the murder of his predecessor. His job is complicated by the simultaneous disappearance of his chief clerk and the new bride of a wealthy local shipowner. Meanwhile, a tiger is terrorizing the district, the ghost of the murdered magistrate stalks the tribunal, a prostitute has a secret message for Dee, and the body of a murdered monk is discovered to be in the wrong grave. In the end, the judge, with his deft powers of deduction, uncovers the one cause for all of these seemingly unrelated events. (Source: Harper Collins Publishers)
Book cover: First US edition. Source: Wikipedia.
Frances and Richard Lockridge were some of the most popular names in mystery during the forties and fifties. Having written numerous novels and stories, the husband-and-wife team was most famous for their Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries. What started in 1936 as a series of stories written for the New Yorker turned into twenty-six novels, including adaptions for Broadway, film, television, and radio. The Lockridges continued writing together until Frances’s death in 1963, after which Richard discontinued the Mr. and Mrs. North series and wrote other works until his own death in 1982.
Richard Lockridge was born on 26 September 1898 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was educated at the University of Missouri. After serving in the United States Navy, he returned to Missouri, working as a reporter on the Kansas City Kansan and the Kansas City Star. In 1922, he married fellow reporter Frances Louise Davis. Frances was born on 10 January 1896 in Kansas City Missouri, and was educated at the University of Kansas. Before her marriage she was a reporter and music critic for the Kansas City Post. In 1937, Frances Lockridge conceived the plot for a detective novel, but had problems with her characters. Richard Lockridge collaborated with his wife, using her plot and the characters he had created earlier for a series of comic sketches in The New Yorker, Mr. and Mrs. North (named for the “stupid people who played the north hand in bridge problems,” according to Lockridge). The book was published in 1940 as The Norths Meet Murder, launching a series of twenty-six novels, which was adapted for the stage, film, radio, and television.
In 1960, Richard and Frances Lockridge were co-presidents of the Mystery Writers of America. They received a special Edgar Award in 1962. Richard Lockridge had received an Edgar in 1945 for best radio play.
Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp introduces the first North mystery as follows:
In the first North mystery, The Norths Meet Murder (the publication year customarily given as 1940, though my paperback edition gives the first printing as December 1939), the Lockridges introduced not only the Norths, but the recurring character Lieutenant Weigand (known to his underlings on the force, like Detective Mullins, as “Loot”), who “doesn’t seem like a policeman” to the Norths and their society friends (he’s too much like them, don’t you know).
The Norths start off their career as a mystery fiction couple in classic fashion, finding a man’s naked, battered body in a bathtub in the empty top floor apartment of the Greenwich Village brownstone where they live. This discovery brings Weigand and Mullins into their lives. Soon Weigand, through some clever police work, identifies the corpse as one of the North’s own social set! And the Norths are suspects!!
- Mike Grost on Frances and Richard Lockridge
- Mystery Files articles on Frances and Richard Lockridge
- Kate Jackson’s articles on Frances and Richard Lockridge are at Cross-Examining Crime
- Les Blatt’s articles on Frances and Richard Lockridge are at Classic Mysteries
- Aubrey Hamilton’s articles on Frances and Richard Lockridge are at Happiness is a Warm Book
- Sergio Angelini’s articles on Frances and Richard Lockridge are at Tipping My Fedora
- TracyK’s article on Frances and Richard Lockridge is at Bitter Tea and Mystery
- Mike Grey’s article on Frances and Richard Lockridge is at Ontos
- J F Norris’ article on Frances and Richard Lockridge is at Pretty Sinister Books
(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Frederick A. Stokes Company (USA), 1940)
Mr. and Mrs. North stumble upon a corpse—and fall backward into murder
Jerry and Pamela North’s upstairs apartment has been empty as long as they can remember. It’s an ordinary Greenwich Village abode, and the Norths are ordinary Villagers—which means they can’t bear to go more than a few days between cocktail parties. So when Pamela decides to stage a soiree in the empty apartment, Jerry goes along begrudgingly. But what seems inconvenient becomes felonious the moment they find a dead man in the tub. He has been bludgeoned, stripped naked, and left to rot. The party is most certainly off.
Which neighbor was rude enough to leave a body in the upstairs tub? Though they should know better, Mr. and Mrs. North can’t resist getting involved. Before they know it, they’re right in the thick of a manhunt, and Greenwich Village will never be the same.
The Norths Meet Murder is the 1st book in the Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order. (Source: Mysterious Press)