The Liar's Dice
I don’t think The Liar’s Dice enhances Gambled Away. The slow pace, the setting, and ambiguous ending struck a discordant note with me and for me, it is the least successful novella in the anthology. A murder and the ensuing search for the killer drives the plot and unfortunately, Ms. Lin sacrifices the romance in order to solve a crime.
At twenty-five, Lady Bai (called Wei-wei) is unmarried and lives at home with her scholarly family. She’s resigned to spinsterhood and spends her days reading and tutoring her younger brother, although deep down she longs for adventure and freedom. Masquerading as a man in her brother Huang’s robes, she convinces a manservant to take her to a tea house late one evening. She enjoys her outing, but when Wei-wei is ready to return home, her driver and carriage are nowhere to be found.
Mistaking her for her brother Huang, a stranger calls out to her as she searches for her carriage. He offers to guide her back to the tea house and introduces himself as Gao. It’s understood Gao knows the young man is a she, but neither character voices it. Wei-wei surreptitiously catalogs Gao’s appearance, clothing, and the sound of his voice, finding herself attracted to her mysterious companion. But he doesn’t reveal who he is, how he knows her brother, or why he is in the area and she never gets a chance to ask. As they walk to the tea house, they hear a cry for help. When Wei-wei reaches the source of the cry, she discovers a man crumpled on the ground, dead. Gao persuades her to leave and returns her to her carriage.
When Wei-wei tries to piece together the evening’s events, she realizes Gao must have been waiting for her brother, and returns to the neighborhood of the tea house to ask him why. The remainder of the novella finds her ferreting out clues as to why her brother might have been involved in the crime and what role, if any, Gao played. She follows Gao through gambling dens in search of clues and when she gets too close to the killer, she’s kidnapped. Gao somehow finds her and gambles for her freedom. Wei-wei finds herself unable to stop thinking about the mysterious Gao – and longing to spend more time with him.
The ending seemed rushed, and I was disappointed the story concluded with so many unanswered questions. We never truly learn who Gao is or what motivates him to help Wei-wei, or even if they see one another again. The Liar’s Dice deserved a longer format.