MAGISTRATE DEE EMBARKS...
...on a long, sweltering journey south to the tropical port city of Canton. From there, he means to make his way to the prison island of Hainan, also called
the Shore of Pearls. Such a lovely name, he thinks, for such a hellish place, where the Empress is fond of exiling “inconvenient” officials, especially those whose suffering brings her the most pleasure—poets, scholars, defenseless elderly
men whose soft uncallused hands never held a weapon more lethal than a brush, whose bones never rested on anything rougher than a featherbed. The ill-fated Scholar’s Rebellion sent many such men to the island, and now Dee, afraid for their lives and
sanity, is determined to go there, find them, and if he can, bring them home.
Canton, its seething markets, its throngs of humanity, its babel of languages and with ships putting in from every part of the known world fascinate
Dee, but he intends to waste no time in getting to the island. He is instantly thwarted: an entrenched and clannish eunuch bureaucracy that controls access to the island has no intention of allowing him to set foot there; no amount of perfume can mask the
redolence of corruption and graft.
Bubonic plague has also arrived in the city, as has a brilliant Persian physician whom Dee befriends, and who becomes his ally. Abu Zeed, who has a theory about rats, fleas and plague, is as eager
as Dee to get to the island. The exotic, numberless diseases of the tropics attract the insatiably curious physician like rare orchids. Another Persian befriends Dee—a woman, who causes Dee to put his two wives, miles away in the north, out of his mind
In distant Loyang, meantime, Hsueh Huai-i is hard at work, in every sense of the word, assisting the Empress in her ultimate ascent: public “miracles” suggest that Wu’s rule is fulfillment of Buddhist
prophecy. Soon, Hsueh, on a mission for Wu, materializes in Canton like a phantasm, carrying with him an ornate box, designed by the Empress herself, empty for now, but of a size and shape suitable to transport a human head…
and Abu Zeed conspire, sleuth, collaborate, and against perilous odds and in the midst of a rash of grisly murders of prominent eunuchs in Canton, travel to the fever-infested island. An uprising
of prisoners and lepers, an encounter with a bizarre insect-worshipping cult and a harrowing escape from agents of the Empress herself are but a few of the dangers the two elude before they flee the island barely in possession of their lives. And both learn
deep and lasting lessons about loyalty and betrayal, and the shifting, overlapping, shape-changing nature of the two.
“Well known to lovers of detective literature, Judge Dee, popularized by Robert
Van Gulik, was in fact an historical figure, a hero whose existence is evidenced in the archives of Chinese history.
Renowned authors and sinologists Eleanor Cooney and Daniel Altieri have woven a thriller of the
first order which allows the reader to discover seventh-century China: a universe at once barbaric and refined.”