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The Chinese Nail Murders

(Judge Dee (Chronological order) #15)

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,122 ratings  ·  66 reviews
A.D. 676

In the fifth installment of Robert Van Gulik's ancient Chinese mystery series based on historical court records, detective Judge Dee is appointed to the magistrate of Pei-chow - a distant frontier district in the barren north of the ancient Chinese Empire. It is here that he is faced with three strange and disturbing crimes: the theft of precious jewels, the disapp
Paperback, 220 pages
Published November 15th 1977 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1961)
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Henry Avila
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 4th in the series of the magnificent Judge Dee detective novels the wise magistrate and his four trusted , able assistants have arrived in the northern frontier town of Pei-chow where a war with the Tartars, who live just across the border may begin any moment, and a Chinese army of 100,000 soldiers nearby nervous but ready for action . Nevertheless everything seems calm on the surface in the small town, just one important case of note for Dee to investigate, the disappearance of Liao Lien-f ...more
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
From Wikipedia: Judge Dee (also, Judge Di) is a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, county magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character appeared in the 18th-century Chinese detective and gong'an crime novel "Di Gong An". After Robert van Gulik came across it in an antiquarian book store in Tokyo, he translated the novel into English and then used the style and characters to write his own original Judge Dee historical mystery stories.
A Serendipitous Discovery

June 29, 2011: I move to New York City.

Early July: I hear about a new Tsui Hark film, "Detective Dee," and try to attend a screening, only to find out that it's part of a film festival that has long since sold out. Still, my curiosity is piqued about a martial artist investigator.

Days later: I peruse a table of second-hand books near my apartment and pick out a book called "The Chinese Gold Murders." The description on the back intrigues me, and I think, "Hell, one dolla
Ivonne Rovira
Apr 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ivonne by: any self-respecting mystery lover
Robert van Gulik's Judge novels so reward the reader that it's nearly impossible to pick a favorite; however, I think that The Chinese Nail Murders may be my favorite so far.

In The Chinese Nail Murders, Judge Dee presides at the last magisterial post of his career before being promoted to the capital. That post, Pei-chow, is a bitterly frigid bastion on the untamed northern frontier of the Chinese Empire. In the novel’s first chapter, Judge Dee hears the complaint from two brothers that their s
Kathy Chung
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
of all the Judge Dee books that I have read so far, this has been a most heart wrenching story.

I felt so much hopelessness when I read this book.

the case of the missing girl and death of Mrs Pan were okay.

However when it comes to the case of Sargent Hoong, it felt like a stab in my heart. it was just so not worth it.

I am disappointed at the Case of Mrs Loo as the plot was very similar to the plot of a previous book that I read. was it "the poisoned bride and others mysteries"?

it was sad abou
Aug 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: mysteries-noir
I want to give this book 3+ stars if only because we finally get a glimpse at the personal cost of Dee's devotion to Confucianism when he discovers that a woman who he's falling in love with murdered her first husband (in her defense: he was abusive) but the Law and propriety demand that she pay the price. ...more
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Another great entry in the Judge Dee series. Here Dee solves the mysteries of a headless corpse, a murdered martial-arts expert, and gets into a tough spot with a cold case that puts him on the chopping block.
Karen Kao
Apr 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Judge Dee Jen-djieh is the hero of The Chinese Nail Murders. He’s a magistrate in the fictitious town of Pei-chow in the far north of China. Judge Dee must solve two gruesome murders and a sinister disappearance or risk his own head.


For a detective story first published in 1950, The Chinese Nail Murders is a suprisingly fast-paced read. The plot lines entangle nicely as well with plenty of misdirection to send the reader down the wrong rabbit hole.

Judge Dee is also quite a chara
Another really good Di novel. The mysteries aren't as good as in some other parts of the cycle, but the stakes are much higher and I really, really liked the ending. Plus, the setting is - as usual - described beautifully. I must admit, the title itself is a bit of a spoiler though. ...more
Madhulika Liddle
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
In the late 6th century CE, Chinese magistrate Dee Jen-Djieh, ‘Judge Dee’, is posted to the northern frontier town of Pei-Chow, and finds himself faced with a series of crimes, all seemingly unconnected. A young woman, betrothed to the secretary of a notable personage, vanishes inexplicably. The headless body of a woman is found by her brothers, who immediately accuse her husband—who appears to be absconding—of having murdered her.

Judge Dee, helped by the wise Sergeant Hoong and his three loyal
Nov 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
The novels are illustrated with plates drawn by the author in the Chinese style. Van Gulik has found a reason to include at least one top-heavy, nude woman in each mystery. Which he illustrates. In the Chinese style. The Chinese Nail Murders were alluded to in "The Night of the Tiger" in Monkey and the Tiger. Alluded to as having been the case which knocked Dee for a loop. Took the wind out of his sails. It was his Waterloo. His personal Waterloo. Every detective gets run through the emotional w ...more
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This may be my new favourite Judge Dee book. Unlike the others he actually seemed to get involved in the case, staking his reputation on what he thought had happened. He appeared much more human and much more sympathetic. There was also an unexpected death which surprised me a great deal. The mystery was more normal, not too shocking, though I will never look at snowmen the same again. I do love the Judge Dee novels, while ahistorical in that they are supposedly set in the Tang dynasty but are w ...more
Karen GoatKeeper
Judge Dee is now magistrate in Pei-Chow. His three wives and children have gone to visit family as his first wife's mother is ill. He is left on his own and lonely.
Then a murder occurs to distract him. The headless corpse of a woman is found and her husband is suspected. Judge Dee is doubtful the merchant was capable of the murder and beheading.
Later a boxing master is poisoned. And a widow might actually have murdered her husband. Judge Dee stakes his reputation and life on this one.
This entry
Bob Deysach
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the best of the series of four. The book is set in 700AD China like the others and written by a scholar who pieced some extent stories with his knowledge of the culture to produce an engaging trip back 13 centuries. It was filled with sort of believable examples of the time. For example, Judge Dee indicates how circumstances led to his taking a 3rd wife when he really wanted to stick with his first two. But he then parenthetically added that it worked out well in that the four of them we ...more
Jim Layman
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
My favorite of the Judge Dee mysteries thus far, the mystery unfolds under the cold white snows of a northern Chinese province. Judge Dee struggles to solve several grisly murders and also faces inner turmoil and threat of his own dismissal and demise. We see the Judge’s human side and his quest for honor and reverence toward his august ancestors.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries
A long time ago I listened to the Judge Dee series on cassette tapes put out by Recorded Books. At a used book store I found the paperback edition of The Chinese Nail Murders, a browning copy from the 60s. That was cool.
These are wonderful stories; there is mystery and there is insight into the cultural life of the Tang Dynasty of the 7th century.
Fascinating and enjoyable.
Mazeli Dee
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I bawled at this. Another beloved major character was killed.
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Sarah is called to a wealthy home when the pregnant wife goes into labor after finding her murdered husband. The man was a mesmerist and mystery to find the killer ensues.
Sandy Jones
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
The cases in this book are interesting, but the writing style is kind of slow. Overall it is an enjoyable read. You should read this.
a clever little whodunnit with lots of murder and intrigue
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 08, 2010 rated it liked it
One of my friends, seeing that I'm in the middle of a mystery novel spree, lent me this book that she'd read for a Chinese history class last year. It's interesting for a lot of reasons, which I will list here:

-The stories are based on real Chinese police cases, but the translator van Gulik (a Dutch diplomat) decided that they were too boring and gave them the CSI treatment to spice them up. This means comically inept deputies, three illustrations featuring topless women being abused in some way
Heather Lewis
Sep 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
I appreciated that the setting was based in seventh century China and that it focused on a culture I'm not too familiar with but other than those two factors nothing about the book stood out or made it worth reading. I only finished reading the book so I wouldn't have to put it in the 'come back to and read' pile. I found the characters to be one dimensional and the plots/ themes to overlap themselves too much. As a mystery novel lover, I would not recommend this book to any other fanatic of mys ...more
Dec 30, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half was a bit dry, but the second half quickly became exciting and rather disturbing at parts. The books is written in the style of old Chinese murder mysteries telling stories about the historical Judge Dee. In medieval China, the judge was a mix of detective, judge, and governor, and Judge Dee was particularly clever and well-known. Completely different from anything I have ever read.
Meita Supardi
Mar 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love it! How genius of Van Gulik to make an old Chinese crime case be solved in a modern CSI way. And I love Judge Dee character, I wish there are still judges like him in this terrible world. When he actually wanted to resign, I literally held my breath. However coincident the case was solved, I felt relief that he got promoted instead :)
Feb 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Again, this is a book written by Robert van Gulik. He is so amazing. This one is a sort of mystery story. Very interesting. The story is based on an old Chinese story. He added modern flavor to it. It can be a Hollywood movie.
Jun 30, 2011 rated it liked it
A light read. Having read several of his Judge Dee books in the past, I find them interesting as they are set in Imperial China (roughly 630-700). In mysteries of this type, the setting is as interesting as the plot.
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. If your crime and thriller reading doesn't have enough of being able to beat a confession out of your suspects, try this for size. On the other hand, for a Judge Dee novel, this is really quite sad and emotional in many ways, at least in the final chapters. Certainly one of the best. ...more
Jenna Laiche
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had to read this book for a class I took in college. I was wrapped up in the whole story and completely devastated when the book ended. If you like Agatha Christie and other mystery writers, you will love this book!
Mar 31, 2008 added it
Entertaining, a bit gruesome, and very interesting, these are enjoyable mysteries that give a bit of insight into Chinese culture and history.
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Robert Hans van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat best known for his Judge Dee stories. His first published book, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, was a translation of an eighteenth-century Chinese murder mystery by an unknown author; he went on to write new mysteries for Judge Dee, a character based on a historical figure from the seventh century. He also wrote academic books, mostly on Chinese histor ...more

Other books in the series

Judge Dee (Chronological order) (1 - 10 of 17 books)
  • Celebrated Cases Of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An)
  • The Chinese Gold Murders
  • The Lacquer Screen
  • Judge Dee at Work: Eight Chinese Detective Stories
  • The Chinese Lake Murders
  • The Monkey and The Tiger
  • The Haunted Monastery
  • The Chinese Bell Murders
  • The Red Pavilion
  • The Emperor's Pearl

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