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The Night Tiger

By Yangsze Choo 

25 Nov, 2022

Doing the WFC's Homework


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Yangsze Choo’s 2019 The Night Tiger is a historical fantasy set in 1930s Malaya.

Before Dr. MacFarlane died, he charged his faithful servant Ren with a vital task. Locate MacFarlane’s finger and bury it with the doctor within forty-nine days of the doctor’s death. If Ren fails, MacFarlane’s spirit will be cursed to wander the earth.

Although MacFarlane has a good idea where his finger might be, it’s an absurd responsibility with which to saddle a thirteen-year-old servant. Ren lied about his age. He is actually eleven.

Meanwhile, in nearby Ipoh, dance-hall girl Ji Lin has gained an extra finger.

Desperate to help her mother pay off mahjong debts before Ji Lin’s abusive step-father finds out about them, Ji Lin works as a taxi dancer at the May Flower Dance Hall. While dancing with one off-putting salesman, Yew Cheung, Ji Lin filches a glass vial containing within it a severed finger. She didn’t mean to do it. Too bad. She’s now in tremendous danger.

MacFarlane’s infected finger had been removed by surgeon William Acton. Thanks to a letter from his late master, Ren easily finds a place within the surgeon’s household. Finding the missing finger proves far more difficult. It is nowhere to be found in Acton’s home.

Ren is reluctant to ask Acton. Just as well because Acton has problems of his own. He’s a compulsive womanizer. He is shocked when one of his lovers turns up dead, dismembered by a tiger. He’s a medical man, a rational man, and dismisses suggestions that the tiger was supernatural. However, some say that his lover was dead before the tiger mauled. That is threatening. If she was murdered and his connection to her is revealed, he is a logical suspect. How does this relate to the finger? There’s a hint several paragraphs below.

One might expect Yew Cheung to come looking for the missing vial. He does not; he died soon after he left the dance hall. To dancer Ji Lin’s alarm, Y. K. Wong, supposed friend of Yew Cheung, begins to ask questions about the finger. Wong does not seem inclined to stop asking just because Ji Lin claims not to have been the girl with whom Yew Cheung had been dancing.

Ji Lin reluctantly explains at least some of her predicament to her step-brother Shin. Here the plot threads begin to cross. Shin works at the same hospital that Acton does, the very facility where, were it not for a black market in lucky body parts, MacFarlane’s finger would even now be residing.

All very complicated! And that’s not even getting into the supernatural elements of the situation, elements that rationalists like Acton are very, very wrong to dismiss.


I believe this novel shares a setting with Choo’s The Ghost Bride. If it does not, then events very much like Ghost Brideoccurred in this novel’s past.

I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened to the surviving characters after the end of the novel. Malaya was occupied by the Japanese for three years during the Second World War, and not too long after that, endured a state of emergency that ran from 1948 to 1960. The main characters are Chinese, an ethnic group towards whom considerable ire was directed. Did Ji Lin and company survive long enough to die of old age? Might some of them still be alive?

Some of the twists were a bit telegraphed. I don’t think it was supposed to be a shocking revelation that the tiger was a weretiger. Nor was it much of a secret who was prone to tigerish fits, since the culprit tried to confess. It was also fairly easy to work out the various persons (or person) who might have perpetrated the other murders that stud the novel like currants in a scone.

Otherwise, the author juggles quite a number of balls — missing body parts! Tigers! Forbidden love! Other kinds of forbidden love! Restless ghosts! The needlessly convoluted social calendars of colonial Brits! Murder most foul! She does it quite skillfully. Both Li Jin and Ren are nicely drawn characters about whose fates the reader will care.

The Night Tiger is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).