Dancing with the Tiger by Lili Wright is a literary thriller of propulsive force that is taut, acidly witty, menacingly erotic, and often absolutely terrifying. It is nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.
She wore black, the color of nuns and witches, the color of the loneliest corners of outer space, where gravity prevents all light from escaping, the name given to boxes tucked into airplanes, the ones that explain the disaster.
As you can read in the very first sentence of Dancing with the Tiger, author Lili Wright gets straight to business. We learn so much about the main character Anna Bookman in the just first scene—she breaks up with her boyfriend, which starts off a chain of events that takes her on a wild chase from New York to Mexico, ostensibly for an ancient mask with special powers and life altering value.
Anna approaches relatable events—like a break up or disappointment with a parent—with such panache, and Wright paints these scenes for us with writing that breathes life onto the page. It’s the break up and a problem with the credibility of a professional project—a book on ancient masks co-written with her father—that sends Anna on her quest for personal, professional, and financial redemption. But it’s her relationships after she arrives that prove to be the real test.
The cab driver thumped his horn – “Penejo.” Anna relaxed, a wave of optimism surging through her. Aggressive cabdrivers made her feel invincible, confirming her theory that misfortune seldom struck people in motion.
Of course, lots of misfortune finds her and the other characters in the book as they chase after the mask, all while wearing their own different types of metaphorical masks. We get glimpses behind their facades as we shift through different points of view from scene to scene. Despite these shifts—which remind me of the different points of view in an Elizabeth George book—it’s easy to hold onto the story. It helps that we spend the most page time with Anna, who I found easier to root for than many of the characters. Plus, she’s got quite a way about her…
The clerk was wearing Carnival beads and a cut petunia behind his right ear. His eyebrows looked thicker than Anna remembered, and his fingers were clotted with rings. He’s working his way to up to Frida Kahlo. Anna thought. Pretty soon he’ll buy a monkey.
Yes, Anna wears her own mask, but so does everyone else in this book. Determining who she can trust, including herself, is Anna’s biggest challenge. And the cast of characters she has to wade through is a who’s who of conmen and thugs.
With a fresh voice, vivid descriptions, and intriguing characters, at no time does this book read like a 1st novel. Dancing with the Tiger is literary, with the pacing and plotting of a thriller.
If you like thrillers with personality and antiques with a side of ruthless thug, Dancing with the Tiger is a book for you. Wright’s descriptions of the fabulous and not-so-fabulous Mexico locales and banditos add a savory flavor. It’s easy to see why it was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I look forward to Lili Wright’s sophomore effort.
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Deborah Lacy’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine, the 2016 Bouchercon Anthology: Blood on the Bayou, and she has a story coming up in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She also runs the Mystery Playground blog.