As the article below from Tricycle explains, Robert van Gulik, a Dutch emissary to China, found an eighteenth-century novel while he was living in Nationalist China during World War II. This novel was about the seventh-century magistrate Di Renjie, whom van Gulik went on to feature in his own series...
As the article below from Tricycle explains, Robert van Gulik, a Dutch emissary to China, found an eighteenth-century novel while he was living in Nationalist China during World War II. This novel was about the seventh-century magistrate Di Renjie, whom van Gulik went on to feature in his own series of Judge Dee novels. Judge Dee is the judge who presides over the district during the Tang Dynasty, and, in this role, he also solves mysteries.
Much of the deductive process that Judge Dee uses to solve his crimes is similar to the methods of Sherlock Holmes. For example, in the story "Five Auspicious Clouds," the judge is able to determine the time of death of the victim, the lovely Mrs. Ho, using the ornate cover of an incense clock. This cover features a pattern of five auspicious clouds, and the incense burns along the spirals of these clouds. Judge Dee realizes that someone has spilled a teapot on the incense clock, stopping the burning of the incense and apparently establishing the time of death of the victim.
However, the Judge is not swayed by this evidence. He later realizes that Mr. Ho, who murdered his wife, deliberately spilled tea to establish a fake time of death and to implicate his wife's lover, Mr. Fung, in her murder. Judge Dee is a close observer and listener and hears Mr. Ho utter the phrase "a few hours after I left her," and the judge knows that Mr. Ho is the person who committed the crime because Mr. Ho knew when Mrs. Ho had been murdered.
In the "Red Tape Murder," Judge Dee is also a careful observer and does not fall for the red herring, the false clues, that the real murderer attempts to put in his way. He cleverly figures out that Colonel Meng, who is originally accused of murdering Vice-Commander Soo, is innocent. He first notices a missing document for a purchase order, which his assistants dismiss. This missing document provides a motive for the killer. The judge later notices that Soo, the victim, was killed while wearing his boots, which would not have been likely if Soo had truly been asleep. He also notices that the true killer, Colonel Shih Lang, has a scratch on his toe as he used his foot to toss an arrow, reinforced with red tape, into Soo's stomach.
In these mysteries, Judge Dee is an acute observer of the facts. He does not take people's guilt for granted but instead uses careful observation of physical facts and of people's words to find the true killers. Though placed in the Tang Dynasty in ancient China, Judge Dee, in his many cases, uses the methods of a more modern detective such as Sherlock Holmes.