Reviews: Judge Dee

The Chinese Lake Murders

This book has much to recommend it. The mysteries are mysterious, but still well-thought-out and well-foreshadowed enough that they don't come across as cheap or out-of-the-blue. All the regular characters are at the top of their form, including newcomer Tao Gan, each contributing to the solution in their own ways, though some do so more than others. And the stakes of this particular set of cases are some of the highest in the series, with the whole of the Empire potentially at risk.

All that said, it still has two major flaws and a minor nitpick or two. The first, and probably most egregious, is the intensity of the coincidences its narrative relies upon. If, in reading a summary, you take a shot every time one character just happens to run into another character or clue at random in the somewhat-populous city the novel takes place in, you will be quite drunk before even the halfway point. Additionally, the "introductory" passage preceding the story makes no sense before finishing the novel, and comes across as a bit "on the nose" afterward. Finally, and this is comparatively much more minor, the book doesn't do quite as good a job as some of its fellows showing Dee's relationship with his wives and children as a family man, and it often has trouble establishing Chiao Tai as a character independent of Ma Joong or finding things for Sergeant Hoong to do.

That said, this is still a fine novel and a good introduction to the series, if not necessarily to the characters of the Judge and his lieutenants, save Tao Gan and Ma Joong.