Thanks for the link, Tom! That's so coincidental since we just had Dee as a book club selection. Oddly enough, as I was reading this book I was imagining how beautiful it could be as a film. That film looks to be going in a more action-packed direction, however.
Responding to some other topics in the thread,
Regarding the torture near the end:
It was definitely shocking, mainly because this book is not a horror book nor even a thriller, and because there was nothing that graphic anywhere else in the book. It didn't upset me; it just felt out of place. But I didn't mind it, especially after reading that he included it because it was common to include graphic descriptions of the punishments of the guilty at the end of books in that era as a deterrent.
Regarding the portrayal of women:
I think he was portraying a mixture of attitudes from that era as well as from his own era. My guess is that "Dark Orchid" may have been a character probably uncommon from stories of that era, and he may have included her to possibly appease his own idea of a "stronger" female character. It is hard to say though, as he was so faithful to writings of the era that he himself may have had a more liberal attitude than we may think.
In a way I do not mind. If it is not done with malicious intent, I rather like historical fiction in which society is portrayed more truthfully, warts and all. So much historical fiction makes allowances for certain ill-treated groups, usually giving characters from those groups more power than they probably had at a particular time, and making other characters more compassionate and open-minded than they probably would've been, to appease our modern sense of equality. Retroactive liberation.
Regarding the lesbian character:
This I agree with Tom on. While the portrayal of women in general didn't bother me, I thought the portrayal of the evil lesbian character, being the only homosexual in the story, was rather crude. And his postscript didn't help. He himself, in discussing source material for the novel, describes homosexuality as an "aberration" and a "problem" (pages 231-233).
I am all for a lesbian character being deranged if that's what an author wants (I even rather enjoyed the modern twist of the story including a homosexual character, which was what he was going for), but not when it seems that it is reflecting the attitude that all lesbians may be deranged. I do chalk it up to van Gulik's time though, but just barely.
Originally Posted by HomeInMyShoes
I enjoyed the book. I did feel a little cheated when I read the author's notes at the end and he talked about removing the supernatural element that is common in Chinese mysteries. I would have liked that, even given my Western upbringing.
I didn't feel cheated by that. I actually really enjoyed his solution to that plot problem, with the "possibly" supernatural Master Crane giving vague clues rather than outright answers.
But though he mentions Eastern vs Western tastes in the postscript, it seemed like he was more worried about modern vs historical tastes. As he mentions, back then it was accepted for a problem to be solved by the deus ex machina of a ghost simply giving answers, which I think was probably partly because people were much more likely to believe in apparitions then and view this development as realistic. Most people now wouldn't view it as realistic and would probably view it as lazy.