Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Chinese Bell Murders


Judge Dee #1: “The Chinese Bell Murders” by Robert Van Gulik.  Actually, this is the third published Judge Dee work, though the first published in the US. It is also the first case of Judge Dee in Poo-yang Province. Judge Dee Jen-djieh comes to the Poo-yang tribunal in the 7th Century China, with his four aides – Lieutenants Ma Joeng, Chiao Tai, & Tao Gan, along with his close associate, Sergeant Hoong. Three mysteries are awaiting him as he replaces the previous Judge. The rape and murder of a young girl on Half Moon Street, mysterious going-on at the Temple of Boundless Mercy, and a feud between the Laing family and Lin Fan, in which a number of murders have been committed, as well as smuggling. How the judge unravels all the mysteries and brings the cases to a satisfying conclusion is a fun read, and we get to know Dee and his aides personally as their investigation progresses.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Assignment Peking


Sam Durell #28: “Assignment Peking” by Edward S. Aarons. Supposedly K-Section and E-Section of the CIA are at each other’s throats. Someone wants K-Section and General McFee shut down; McFee brings Durell in for assignment to Piking, but he’s under orders to E-Section. Jasmine Jones, a Chinese/American is assigned to keep an eye on Sam, but no one is to be trusted, even Jasmine, McFee, or the general in charge of E-Section. Surgery makes Durell look like Major Shan, a Chinese agent, who is supposed to be dead, but then Shan returns to complicate matters, and we find that there’s a third element playing both sides against each other. Code-named The Six Sentinels, they are an American group wanting China to drop an atomic bomb on Taiwan, bringing a nuclear war between the US and China. Actually, I felt this plot was too complicated for its simplicity. US Intelligence should have been able to uncover the third party with ease, and Durell would have been unnecessary. But being a Sam Durell action novel, we get to watch his cold efficiency in preparing to kill McFee or anyone else involved. A fun read.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Saigon Singer

Major North #15: “Saigon Singer” (1946) by Van Wyck Mason. Colonel Hugh North resigns his rank of colonel to remain a field agent. G-2 has received word that someone in Saigon can give them the names of British and Americans who consorted with a Japanese general, identifying our agents, resulting in their deaths. Now America and British governments want them brought to trial for treason.  His cover is a safari to shoot tigers in Indo-China, and his contact will come to him. The British sends their man, Brigadier Bruce Kilgore to assist Major North. Pamela Saunders, an American prisoner during the Japanese occupation, had the mistress of the general in order to survive, and she has the records. A gifted opera singer in Saigon, she wants money that will take her to the Stage in Paris and New York, and will reveal the secret for the right price – if North can keep her alive.
This was a good plot, but lacked action. I was mainly disappointed in the lack of detail of Indo-China in 1946. This was right after WWII, and the defeat of Germany and Japan. Indo-China was a colony of France, and everyone involved in the Saigon case is American or European. We do get this brief description: At the more important intersections diminutive gendarmes in conical lampshade hats used white batons in languid efforts to direct traffic. Nobody appeared to give them more than casual and tolerant consideration. Chinese, Annamite, Malay, Negroid, Caucasian, Sikhs, and Arabs hustled about.
I did enjoy the writing, no matter how boring it was. The author used a lot of words that kept me reaching for the dictionary, and I enjoy finding new words to play with. For instance, the following:
Definitely callopegic, eh?”
“The word, old boy, is callipygian.”
“What kind of double talk is that?” a third party wondered.
“Merely a brief dissertation upon the pulchritudinous merits of the charming nymphs of the asphalt who just passed.”
Well, my dictionary could not find callopegic or callipygian, but pulchritudinous tells us they were discussing the beauty of street hookers.
I’m not sure who the Annamites were, but supposed they are the local inhabitants – Vietnamese. The final confrontation came twenty miles from Saigon, in one of my old stomping grounds, Bieh Hoa, so that tickled me, though it would be 24 years later when I arrived. The French Colonists controlled Saigon and Indo-China, and whether the author meant to or not, it didn’t paint a very good picture colonialism.  Still, the plot was good, and the story interesting, even if there wasn’t much action on the part of our hero. It was a fun read, regardless.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Harem of His Men


The Harem of Hsi Men by Jin Ping Mei. Early Chinese literature. Almost unreadable in modern day novels, the basic premise involves a rich Chinese who has no children or other pleasures. One day his wife allows him to buy a couple girls to sing, dance and play flutes all day to entertaining him. One of the girls dies early on, but the young Chin Lien (called Gold Lotus) becomes his true entertainment. She’s smart, can read and write, and knows how to apply makeup, and it isn’t long before Master Chang desires her for other, more private, entertainment. When his wife catches on, she immediately tries to put a stop to this hanky-panky, and forces Master Chang to give the girl away in marriage. The crafty old Chang gives her to his poor tenant also residing in the master’s home, and when the old tenant is out working, Master Chang carries on his affair with the young Gold Lotus. When the wife finally has enough, she forces the tenant and Chin Lien out, and away from her husband’s clutches for good. At least the book does have a great cover, but the story is too old-fashioned to really be worth reading for modern taste.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Emperor's Pearl


Judge Dee #10: “The Emperor’s Pearl” by Robert van Gulik. Based on a real magistrate of Poo-yang district in central China during the 6th or 7th century, he was China’s equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Along with his adviser, Sergeant Hoong, solves baffling mysteries. In “The Emperor’s Pearl” several murders involving people in the antique business. Perhaps a great jewel belonging to the house of the emperor is at stake, but the master detective senses there is also a sexual maniac torturing young slave girls at the bottom of the case, and the killer/maniac may be someone high and respected in the community. This is my first encounter with the Judge Dee mysteries, and overall it is a good mystery, and has interesting characters. Written in the style of Sherlock Homes and Watson, Judge Dee and Sergeant Hoong match wits with wily criminals, bringing the case to a surprising end in dramatic style. A bit of fun reading.