Judge Ti, an amiable senior administrator in T'ang Dynasty China, is a devout Confucian and a keen amateur sleuth. In this novel, apparently the eighth in the series, he has been posted to a far-flung corner of the Empire together with his three wives and assorted concubines. It's cold and miserable, and the natives have found entirely too many things to do with yak fat. Not only that, his predecessor hasn't bothered to collect the taxes.
But even here, close to the Mongolian border, people have a deep respect for the four sacred arts of music, painting, calligraphy and Go. Indeed, the local potentate, Tchao, and his immediate circle are utterly obsessed with the game of Go. Lord Tchao has had a giant Go board constructed in the garden, and is playing a long-drawn-out game against Liu, an elderly Go master who has retired from the capital of Chang-An to live out his last years in accord in the precepts of the Tao.
Ti's suspicions are soon aroused: there have been several unexplained deaths in the recent past, and he starts to ask questions. One evening, he's invited to dinner at Lord Tchao's mansion. Tchao and Liu go out to the giant Go board, where Liu makes his next move. Around the table, Liu then behaves strangely. He confronts another guest, Hou, and asks him if he's made his will. The next day, Hou is discovered stabbed to death. And when Liu is also murdered shortly afterwards, there's no doubt that something bad is going on.
The plot, already hard to swallow, gets more and more bizarre as the story progresses, but none the less has a certain charm. If you like board games and read French, you'll probably enjoy it too.