Necklace and Calabash – a 1967 Judge Dee Mystery

So, I ran across this challenge on Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction blog to read one book from a specific year and this month’s year was 1967.   So, I went searching and found this Judge Dee mystery from 1967, Necklace and Calabash.  I’ve been aware of Judge Dee for ages, but never read one – they’re by Robert van Gulik who was a Dutch diplomat who grew up in Indonesia.   van Gulik found and translated an 18th century Chinese mystery as Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee – Judge Dee was based on a real person who lived in the 7th century.


This is van Gulik’s style of drawing, though not taken from Necklace and Calabash.   A calabash, by the way is a gourd, dried out and used to carry liquid or medicine.   Apparently, doctors often used them, although whether they did it in the 7th century, the 18th century or other, I can’t remember

It was a interesting read, definitely a different setting from my usual.  Rivertown is part-time home to the Third Princess.  Judge Dee comes to town incognito and remains that way for a couple days as he tries to solve the death of a young man who had been tortured and thrown in the river, how to help the local Captain with the crime syndicates in town and retrieve a stolen pearl necklace for the Third Princess.   In addition to this, he manages to get in a little fishing and romance.   From the look of the illustrations online, Dee gets to see naked chicks fairly often.   But he’s an honorable guy and tries not to look too much.

It sounds complex, but it really isn’t and that was disappointing.  I guessed part of the mystery very early on, though not the rest, so it was clever enough on that score.  I deeply dislike gangs and torture, so if that’s a standard in Dee stories, I might not read anymore.  Not that it was too much grisly detail, but I just don’t find that sort of thing interesting.   There was a Taoist Master named Gourd who was interesting and the picture of life in ancient China was also interesting, though van Gulik explains there are certain anachronisms in the afterword.  At this point, I’m not sure whether I’ll read more of them or not, but I’m glad I read this one.