This time we start a new novel, one of the installments in a detective series about female medical examiner Mia Song. The novel we’re looking at for this series is Dark Witch by Erica Li Min and Atushuoli (《黑夜女巫》李敏，阿圖說力合著), which was published around 2007, and it can be purchased in the Chinese edition here:
When I first glanced at this book, I thought there was only one author, but it turns out to be a collaboration with one of the authors, Erica Li Min, being very prominent. I’ll cover her in more depth at my affiliate blog, the Sun Rises in the East, in a few weeks when I get a chance to investigate her a bit more. But Atushuoli is her frequent co-author on a lot of projects, though he seems to have a much lower profile.
This book is book 2 in the series of about three or four books. I only see three listed in most places, but I do have a fourth book that was available for a while. The story is set in George, Western Cape, South Africa, which you can read about here:
According to this article, less than 1% of George’s population is Asian.
This book is only 274 pages and has 31 chapters. Each chapter lists the time and location in place of a chapter name, though it doesn’t have the date. The story focused on the Yang family, whose family business is in the coffee industry. The title of the book, Dark Witch, refers to their premiere coffee blend. Their estate is called “the Estate of Forever Young,” which it is actually called in English in the text, but I used it in the title to this post with a more natural English expression.
Chapter 1 is set at the Yang family mausoleum in George at 2PM. The patriarch of the family, Guorong Yang, has died at age 60, and the rest of the family is attending his funeral. The cast of characters includes his wheelchair-bound wife of 40 years, Honghui Yang; their oldest daughter Anli Yang, her husband Qian Fu and their three-year-old son Yigan Fu; younger daughter Ankei Yang, her fiance Tiandong Ji, her twin brother Andi Yang; and family friend and lawyer Dongni Pang. His funeral was well-attended since he was so prominent, and the mausoleum is filled with the sound of crying.
They return to the lush estate, and its history is outlined. “The Estate of Forever Young” is what Guorong Yang named the house, though it was formerly owned by a Scottish family before some action the South African government took that caused it to fall into the Yang family’s hands. The estate has a few buildings, a garden near a cliff which has a plum blossom shaped pond with lotuses. It is considered an architectural and feng shui masterpiece. A group of female servants get the family settled at home and prepare dinner, and they are joined by Brazilian woman Jiabi whose grandmother was an early Chinese immigrant. After dinner, they move into another room to have dessert and tea. After some subdued discussion and Pang gets drunk and falls asleep in the middle of their visit, they retire to their rooms, leaving Andi Yang alone there. He opens a window and lets out a butterfly, thinking about his father’s soul, before he too retires for the night.
Chapter 2 fast forwards to 8AM at the estate. The female servants all wake up at 6:15, and they include a young white girl named Mei’en who helps in the kitchen and studies food preparation under an older black servant Manbisi. The other servants at the estate include the housekeeper, an accountant and the chauffeur. Manbisi and the housekeeper play some special role in producing the family Dark Witch coffee blend. It’s anyone’s guess what some of these transliterated Chinese names might actually be in English, and I’m not going to even try to guess.
The housekeeper helps Honghui Yang dress for breakfast, and we learn she once studied at Oxford before returning to South Africa and marrying Guorong Yang, though she is now paralyzed from the waist down. When she goes downstairs, Pang apologizes for his bad behavior the night before, and the rest of the family arrives for breakfast, all except Andi Yang. When they send a servant up to his room to wake him, they hear her scream and race up to see what is wrong. Qian Fu goes into Andi’s room, sees him sprawled out in a strange position on the bed and calls for someone to get the police.
The next chapter shows the police at the Yang Estate at 9:20AM. The detective Aofuman looks at the body and asks Qian Fu his professional opinion as to the cause of death since he is also a doctor. Qian Fu reluctantly speculates that it was related to Andi’s hemophilia and points out that Guorong also died of such complications. Suddenly there are questions as to whether Guorong died a natural death, and the family discusses whether they need a new court ruling on Guorong’s cause of death. Ankei is very shaken by her twin’s death, and she does some kind of divination with her coffee grinds in her cup. Seeing an S pattern there, she declares it indicates both men were murdered, upsetting everyone further. Lawyer Pang says they can’t read Guorong’s will until the family reaches a consensus about his cause of death.
This sounds like standard detective fare, but it should be a light, fun read after some of the heavier pieces we’ve looked at. Next time, we’ll meet the intrepid medical examiner Mia Song herself.
Part one of a three part series.