Auspicious Readings


Speaking of books and all that literacy stuff, what’s mrpeenee reading these days? I’m glad you asked. I’m re-reading the Judge Dee series, a weird little series of mysteries written in the 40’s. Here’s the low-down by Wikipedia, because I’m too lazy to recreate it:

Robert Hans van Gulik (髙羅佩) (August 9, 1910, ZutphenSeptember 24, 1967, The Hague) was a highly educated orientalist, diplomat, musician (of the guqin) and writer, best known for the Judge Dee mysteries, the protagonist of which he borrowed from the 18th century Chinese detective novel Dee Goong An.

Van Gulik was the son of a medical officer in the Dutch army of what was then called the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia).The Judge Dee character is based on the historical figure
Di Renjie (c. 630–c. 700), magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China, a “folk novel” was written about Judge Dee. Van Gulik translated it into English and had it published under the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee. This gave him the idea of writing his own novels, set with the similar Ming anachronisms, but using the historical character.

Yadda yadda yadda. Whatever. The interesting parts of the books are the background Van Gulik packs in about Ming China. For instance, did you know hookers then used to turn tricks on watercraft called Flower Boats? I didn’t think so.

The “mysteries” are a very small step above Nancy Drew and depend on the most amazing coincidences ever. Since English was Van Gulik’s second language, the writing has a charming awkwardness to it, but throughout, the characters erupt into the most fabulous intemperate language. Just try dropping some of these specimen into your conversation and see if your life isn’t improved:

“Impious dog!”

“August Heaven!”

“Impertinent monkey!”

About mrpeenee

A former bon vivant and terror of a number of New Orleans bars in the mad, gay 1980s, I'm now quietly retired and widowed in San Francisco. I have a crooked nose due to an unfortunate Frisbee accident.

5 responses »

  1. I think the only person I have ever encountered who could convincingly have said “impertinent monkey!” was Edna May Oliver. And I think she probably did say it, regularly.


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