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Mystery Monday Review – The Haunted Monastery

The Haunted Monastery by Robert van Gulik

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


Judge Dee is travelling back to his headquarters in Han-yuan with his three wives and his faithful assistant Tao Gan when sudden autumn storms compel the party to shelter in a Taoist monastery.

He is exhausted but eager to gather background information on the recent deaths of three young women in the monastery. However, as an official in a Confucian bureaucracy where observing etiquette is a big deal, he is forced to conduct hypocritically polite conversations, watch a mystery play and participate in a banquet of macrobiotic fare he can’t stomach.

Adding to the comedy is a poet who writes rude verses about the abbot and a vaudeville girl whose bear loves only her and is dangerously crabby with everybody else. In a funny scene with another entertainer woman, she asks Judge Dee for his advice on how to deal with Sapphic advances to which our judge gives advice more tolerant than we’d expect from a magistrate in the 670s.

More sobering, however, through a window, he sees a one-armed woman being assaulted by a soldier. And he notes an odd relationship among a young woman who wants to become a nun, her chaperone, and her brother. In a story that takes place in the course of only one night, Judge Dee is pitted against the most dangerous kind of crook: the smart guy who’s gone off the rails by thinking the rules don’t apply to him.

The perp is pretty easy to figure out in this story that depends mainly character and setting for its interest. I wonder, too, if Taoist monks in fact wore cowls, attended matins, or got promoted to be almoners and priors. At about 270 pages, the length is just right, with a fast last third of the mystery making up for the rather plodding first two-thirds.




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