The Phantom of the Temple

The Phantom of the Temple

First edition
Author Robert van Gulik
Series Judge Dee
Genre Gong'an fiction, Mystery, Detective novel, Crime
Publisher Heinemann
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 206
Preceded by Murder in Canton
Followed by Judge Dee at Work

The Phantom of the Temple is a gong'an detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630700.

The book features nine illustrations by the author and a map of the town of Lan-fang.

Plot introduction

Judge Dee, a magistrate in the fictional Lan-fang district has a problem: a mysterious phantom is haunting a Buddhist temple. In addition, some 20 bars of gold have gone missing, not to mention the merchant's beautiful daughter. When a body is discovered without a head, Judge Dee must quickly solve the case.

Lan-fang was the setting for another Judge Dee novel, The Chinese Maze Murders and two short stories from Judge Dee at Work.

Literary significance and criticism

"It is regrettable that this latecomer to detection should have died suddenly and at a relatively early age, but this next-to-last product of his pen suggests that the quite original formula he popularized is exhausted. The concealment of robbery by faked supernatural doings is old hat, and the events that Judge Dee unravels here are too cluttered to be either attractive or puzzling."[1]


  1. Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8

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