This first-rate historical mystery by the authors of The Court of the Lion is absorbing from the very first sentence. Cooney and Altieri's ability to make the surroundings, events, and cast of characters believable renders the seventh century as vivid as our own. Judge Dee, familar to mystery fans through the novels of Dutch Sinologist Robert Van Gulik, has been brilliantly re-created and restored to his proper time period, the tumultuous reign of the sinister Chinese empress Wu. Surrounded by sycophantic Buddhist charlatans, the empress has initiated a reign of terror, murdering anyone--including and especially family--to achieve her ends. Dee is hard-pressed to maintain his logical Confucian outlook as external and internal threats imperil the empire. His hectic career as an assistant magistrate heats up further as he investigates a series of grisly ritualistic killings, which he believes to be related to a 50-year-old unsolved murder. At home, meanwhile, his two sons cause him mental and spiritual anguish. The many subplots work together to create a sophisticated tapestry of intrigue and ambition. The characters, from the evil empress and her hapless husband to the most minor of court functionaries, are depicted with an insight that reduces their historical and cultural distance from us. Historical novels of this quality are few and far between. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1993 Release date: 05/01/1993 Genre: Fiction
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