The Murder of Mr. Ma

by Brian Kenney

A high-energy, rambunctious tale that shares much with Sherlock Holmes—the Guy Ritchie versions, that is—as well as traditional Chinese gong’an crime fiction, in which government magistrates solve criminal cases. It’s London, 1924 and Judge Dee Ren Jie, known as Judge Dee, has just arrived in the country to investigate the murder of a colleague whom he knew during World War I, when both served with the Chinese Labour Corps. No less a personage than Bertrand Russell introduces the Judge to Lao She, a retiring London academic who quickly becomes Dee’s sidekick—they are introduced in a prison breakout, it’s complicated—and the two set off to locate the victim’s family. One murder soon becomes two, then more, all performed with the distinctive butterfly sword, putting yet more pressure on Judge Dee to find the perpetrator before he or she tries to murder him. The authors do a wonderful job of depicting the bustling London of the ‘20s, the Chinese community and the relentless racism and stereotypes it is a victim of, and absolutely fabulous displays of martial arts. There’s word that Dr. Dee may be returning to solve another case; here’s hoping he does!

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