Judge Dee, the master detective of seventh-century China, sets out to solve a puzzling double murder and discovers complex passions lurking beneath the placid surface of academic life. A mild-mannered student is rumored to have been slain by a fox-demon, while a young dancer meets her death as she dresses to perform for the magistrate's illustrious dinner guests - an obese Zen monk revered for his calligraphy, a beautiful poetess accused of murder, and the past president of the imperial academy. To connect the present crimes with betrayals and adulteries from decades past, the clever judge must visit a high-class brothel and the haunted shrine of the Black Fox. From the moment the young scholar is found dead on the eve of the Autumn Festival, the pace never lets up.
Robert van Gulik (1910 - 67), a Dutch diplomat and an authority on Chinese history and culture, drew his plots and literary conventions from the popular detective novels that appeared in seventeenth-century China.