Monday, May 7, 2012

Judge Dee: The Night of the Tiger

The second half of The Monkey and the Tiger takes place immediately after the events of The Chinese Nail Murders, while Dee is riding from Pei-Chow to the capitol, and going through a region struck by severe flooding. He's separated from his escort by a collapsing bridge, and then finds himself on an island created by the floods. On it are a gang of bandits called the Flying Tigers, but there's also a fortified country house. Of course, Dee takes shelter there, and ends up investigating a nasty murder.

"The Night of the Tiger" is a sort of T'ang dynasty version of one of those old-dark-house movies from the 30s, but it works well. Dee sleeps in the room of the owner's daughter, Kee-Yu, who was found dead earlier that day. Van Gulik's portrait of the girl is affecting; she's a person of breeding and taste, but also tormented by ill health and possibly morbid brooding. However, Dee discovers that not everything is as it seems, and in the end there's a nasty twist, but the forces of law and justice triumph at last.

I've always been haunted by Kee-Yu; she's relatable but also sad and pathetic. I find her taste and refinement appealing, even admirable, but she also serves as a warning of too much brooding. She has a love affair that ends badly, and it's sad because she was the object of unrequited yet noble passion by one of her father's trusted aides. In the drawing class I took last summer, we were experimenting with Chinese brushes one night, and instead of doing the usual still lifes, I did this little picture of Kee-Yu, looking at the moon and mountains from her balcony.

(Yeah, I know, hardly spectacular, but I liked it. My teacher was impressed and suggested I get some brushes and experiment on my own. Haven't done that yet, but I should.)

"The Night of the Tiger" is a nice little novella with some bits that I found personally haunting. Like the rest of the Judge Dee series, this is Required Reading.

Next in the Dee series: Dee tackles affairs in the capitol in The Willow Pattern.

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