The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo (2019) transported me back to 1931 Malaya (now Malaysia) with a tale of murder, romance, and weretigers.
I loved Choo’s 2013 The Ghost Bride and have no idea why I didn’t highlight it in my best of 2020 posts, so I was looking forward to The Night Tiger. I was not disappointed.
Two storylines woven into one, we first meet Ren, an 11-year old houseboy for MacFarlane, a British physician who is dying and gives Ren a task to complete: find his missing, preserved finger, and bury it with him. But why?
Ji Lin is a young woman, an apprentice dressmaker who secretly works in a dance hall by night in order to pay off her mother’s mah jongg debts. Her stepfather is abusive, and she was not allowed to go to college, although her same-age stepbrother, Shin, is studying at medical school in Singapore even though he was not as gifted a student as Ji Lin.
Ren has traveled to Batu Gajah at MacFarlane’s instructions, to work as a houseboy for another physician, William Acton, who is a surgeon at the District Hospital. It was in Acton’s company that MacFarlane lost his finger, and Ren sets about looking for it immediately. But there are mysterious deaths happening, including the likelihood of a man-eating tiger on the loose. And Acton seems troubled and more than interested in the local young girls.
Meanwhile, Ji Lin has inadvertently stolen a preserved finger from one of her dance partners. Her brother is home from school for the summer, and working at the Batu Gajah District Hospital. Shin is working in the pathology lab, and brings Ji Lin along to help catalog the specimens, so they are able to return the finger from the collection it seems to have come from.
Ren then finds the finger, but time is running out to get it to MacFarlane’s grave, and a terrible accident happens that puts Ren in the hospital. The mysterious accidents and deaths keep happening, and Ji Lin isn’t so sure that her feelings for Shin remain strictly sisterly.
The suspense kept me turning the pages, mostly in a single sitting. I wanted to find out whether Ji Lin would be able to return the finger to MacFarlane’s grave, whether she and Shin would ever be together, and who has been killing so many people in Batu Gaja? Is it Acton, Rawlings the pathologist, truly a weretiger, or someone else? Will Ren survive or join his dead twin, who he and Ji Lin still see in their dreams?
Choo’s writing has some fatphobia, though it seemed to be mostly subtle. The rest of the book is so engrossing and well-written it didn’t immediately put me off.
Because the fatphobia has spoilers, I’m going to put it in another post, here, so you can choose to read it or not, or revisit it after you’ve read the book yourself.