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Mystery Monday Review – The Monkey and the Tiger

The Monkey and The Tiger by Robert van Gulik

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

This is Book #6 of the 17 historical mysteries starring Judge Dee. The unique stories are set in different Chinese provinces from about 663 to 681.

This volume contains two curious novellas whose titles are based on the Chinese zodiac and, in particular, on the characteristic differences of the Yang forces of the Tiger (might, nerve, luck) and the Yang forces of the Monkey (cleverness, wit, creativity).

Both stories have a rapid development of the plot and details about everyday life in China during one of its golden ages, the T’ang era. The beginning of the first story (The Monkey) is atmospheric in that the author sets the tale in a tropical forest, like a fairy tale, while in the second story (The Tiger) Judge Dee finds himself in a fortress besieged, like a feudal adventure story. In The Monkey, there are lessons on how to approach cases that Judge Dee imparts to his assistant Tao Gan. Although he is cunning and slick on the streets, ex-con man Tao Gan lacks the critical thinking skills of his boss and inevitably inflicts his biases on the evidence.

In The Tiger, the author successfully describes the aftermath of a flood of the Yellow River and the quick thinking of Judge Dee. He faces a dangerous situation in an isolated country manor, in a position of weakness and loneliness. His authority as a high-ranking official has no meaning against a band of desperate brigands called The Flying Tigers. The time frame of this story is only one night, so he does not have much time to conjure up a plan to save himself and other innocents from a bloody end.

Without deep psychological descriptions, van Gulik still creates vibrant characters with human interest. In The Monkey is a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis. He falls for a young beautiful bandit girl and gets the notion to walk away from his humdrum life to join a band of highwaymen. In The Tiger, by observing the portrait and belongings of the deceased, Judge Dee gets insight into a personality and identifies the great obsession – the yearning for freedom – that had dominated a life.

Recommended to mystery readers who are looking for something different.




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