Author Yangsze Choo takes the imagination on a literary ride with a compelling murder mystery story, shrouded in frightening folklore and superstition, in this her second book, set in 1930s Malaya.
The story spans through Perak’s Kinta Valley, covering towns like Ipoh, Taiping, Papan, and Batu Gajah, and centres on five individuals who are inextricably bound according to the five virtues of Confucianism.
As Choo explores the topic of duality, mirror worlds, and loss, the story largely follows and alternates from the perspectives of 11-year-old child servant Ren, and dressmaker’s apprentice Ji Lin, who moonlights as a taxi-dancer at the May Flower Dance Hall due to her mother’s mahjong debt.
Ren represents benevolence, and Ji Lin knowledge.
Three other characters complete the set, which includes Ren’s deceased twin brother Yi, who represents honesty, and Ji Lin’s step-brother Shin for faithfulness and integrity.
Li, the character symbolising the last of the virtues, remains a relative mystery until the story unfolds at the end.
Ren works for a British weretiger-obsessed doctor in Kamunting.
The child, however, faithfully leaves to fulfil his dead master’s last wish of finding his finger, which had to be surgically removed many years ago.
He has to find the finger before the 49 days after his master’s death, or else the old man’s soul won’t rest in peace.
Meanwhile, the finger inadvertently finds its way to Ji Lin’s possession, after it falls from a client’s pocket while she is working at the dancehall.
Brilliantly written with lush detail, The Night Tiger certainly does not disappoint.
You get invested in the characters pretty quickly, and there is a touch of familiarity stemming from the fact that it takes place in a cultural location that is not far from home.
Yet, the concept of everyday life depicted by the superstition-rife communities from the bygone era of the 1930s, including the servants and colonial masters, is so foreign, that it feels like a history book that you actually want to read.
With a string of unexplained deaths and fear of weretigers roaming loose adding layers to the plot, The Night Tiger is a certified page-turner.
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