Necklace and Calabash (Judge Dee Mysteries, Book 16)
Robert Van Gulik
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Brought back into print in the 1990s to wide acclaim, re-designed new editions of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee Mysteries are now available.
Written by a Dutch diplomat and scholar during the 1950s and 1960s, these lively and historically accurate mysteries have entertained a devoted following for decades. Set during the T'ang dynasty, they feature Judge Dee, a brilliant and cultured Confucian magistrate disdainful of personal luxury and corruption, who cleverly selects allies to help him navigate the royal courts, politics, and ethnic tensions in imperial China. Robert van Gulik modeled Judge Dee on a magistrate of that name who lived in the seventh century, and he drew on stories and literary conventions of Chinese mystery writing dating back to the Sung dynasty to construct his ingenious plots.
Necklace and Calabash finds Judge Dee returning to his district of Poo-yang, where the peaceful town of Riverton promises a few days' fishing and relaxation. Yet a chance meeting with a Taoist recluse, a gruesome body fished out of the river, strange guests at the Kingfisher Inn, and a princess in distress thrust the judge into one of the most intricate and baffling mysteries of his career.
silk broker comes to see me-Hao he calls himself. Brings a letter of introduction from one of my men in the capital. Hao says he has a contact who has formulated a plan to steal a valuable necklace from the Water Palace here. The thing has eighty-four pearls of the best quality, he says, but they'll have to be sold one by one, of course. If I know of someone who's familiar with the river and the area around the palace, and get him to do the job, Hao's contact '11 pay me ten gold bars. I think at
waiting for Tai Min, behind the bars of the water-gate, underneath the buttress? The water-gates had low arches, no higher than three or four feet, as the judge had seen for himself from the river, but presumably the underground canal could be negotiated in a small, flat-bottomed boat. The man could then have taken the necklace and handed Tai Min a reward through the iron grating; perhaps one gold bar, instead of the ten promised to Lang. The plotters in the palace were experts in intrigue, and
planning to have the necklace discovered in the possession of a person close to the Princess whom they wanted to ruin by falsely accusing him or her of the theft of an Imperial treasure. As she herself was reluctant to supply details about that person, I won't ask you to tell me who it is. But it would help me if you could at least give me a hint, or . . .' He let the sentence trail off. There was a long silence. The judge snuggled into the heavy robe. Its subtle perfume contrasted oddly with
have a quiet time here in our town, sir, I advise you to stick to your physician's role. This being a Special Area, there are all kinds of government agents about, and your incognito might be eh . . . misinterpreted, so to speak. I once was a special service man myself, and I know their mentality!' The judge pulled at his moustache. As a visiting magistrate he would have to make official calls, all dressed up in his ceremonial robe and winged cap-and they were still in Kuan-ti-miao with his
name and rank; then there were notes of dates and sums of money, all written in the same, spidery hand. He nodded and put the envelope into his sleeve. The old man took the stopper out of the small crystal calabash and poured its colourless content in a teacup. Having emptied the cup at one draught, he leaned back into the armchair, his thickly veined hands grasping the armrests. His hooded eyes closed, his breath came in gasps. Then he let go of the armrests and clutched at his breast. A