Title: The Liar’s Dice: A Lotus Palace Mystery
Publisher/Author: Jeannie Lin
Price: $5.99 / $2.99
Tang Dynasty China. Bai Wei-ling is a daughter of privilege. Sheltered and well-educated, she is a spinster, the only daughter of a respected scholar, the descendent of generations of loyal officials. As a woman. however, she can only tutor her younger brother. Unlike either him or her elder brother, Huang, she can never sit for the exams and earn a place for herself in China’s elite ministries. But one night, she dares to dress as a man and sneak out of the house. When she accidentally stumbles across a murder, she finds herself pulled into the investigation … and soon begins to fear that Huang may be right in the middle of it ….
Jeannie Lin keeps popping up on recommendation lists, so when The Liar’s Dice went on sale, I snatched it up. Despite the fact that it is technically the third book in the Lotus Palace series (after The Lotus Palace and The Jade Temptress), I had no problem following along. The previous books deal with different couples and different mysteries; this is the first to center Wei-ling.
And she is a highly appealing heroine: a lover of books and learning, she respects the traditions of her society, while still chafing at the limitations placed on her. She envies her sister-in-law, a former courtesan who could move through society almost at will. As horrifying as she finds the murder, she also finds it to be a curiously liberating experience. Accounted by Gao, a mysterious man with low connections, Wei-ling moves through the city, questioning scholars and gamblers alike. It is exhilarating and terrifying.
One of my favorite scenes in the book places Wei-ling at a temple of Kongzi. While Buddhism and Taoism is widely practiced, as scholars and ministers, Wei-ling’s family have long honored the philosopher whose teachings shaped the imperial exams. She even references the “sage spirits” while making an offering. In the Chinese worldview, everything is alive.
The Liar’s Dice is a terrific short mystery, with an appealing protagonist. Recommended to fans of the Witches of Sonoma series by Gretchen Galway, The Lady Jewel Diviner series by Rosalie Oaks, and the Leonidas the Gladiator mysteries by Ashley Gardner.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]