cover image The Shadow of the Empire

The Shadow of the Empire

Qiu Xiaolong. Severn, $28.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5081-2

Set in seventh-century China, this brilliant series launch from Qiu (the Inspector Chen series) features real-life Dee Renjie (aka Judge Dee), who has just been appointed the Imperial Circuit Supervisor, a post he believes he was given to send him away from the capital city, Chang’ an, after he opposed Empress Wu’s choice of successor. Before Dee can begin his assignment, a knife is thrown through the window of his hostel room with a threatening note attached. Later, the empress’s nephew, Internal Minister Wu, asks Dee to probe a sensational murder. Xuanji, a popular poet, allegedly beat her servant Ning to death before burying the body near the poet’s home. Xuanji followed her initial claim that she knew nothing about the killing with a confession to the crime, which she claimed to have committed while drunk. Dee, who believes the confession to be incomplete at best, investigates. Qiu combines a sophisticated puzzle with appropriate period detail, avoiding the anachronisms of previous Judge Dee fiction. Fans of those books, by Robert van Gulik and others, will clamor for more. (Feb.)