Tea With the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy
Martha Macnamara is a free spirit. Although she’s 50 years old and has accumulated much wisdom over the years, she can also be innocent and even childlike. She’s a musician with much talent, but no fame, and she usually spends her time travelling around and staying with friends. When we meet her, she has flown to California at her grown daughter’s request. Elizabeth, who’s just as independent as her mother but is career-driven and successful, has paid for Martha to stay in an elegant hotel in San Francisco.
While Martha is waiting for Liz to call on her, she meets Mayland Long, a wealthy Asian man who lives at the hotel. Martha and Mayland are instantly attracted to, and intrigued by, each other. When Liz goes missing and Martha starts investigating, Mayland decides to help. When Martha then also disappears right in front of his eyes, Mayland is determined to find her. Fortunately, though he is small and definitely not young, he has some hidden strengths. He will need them to get Martha and Elizabeth out of the mess they’re in.
Tea With the Black Dragon (1983) is a book I’ve been meaning to read for decades and have just managed to get to. Based on reviews I’ve read, and (I think) the title of the book, I was expecting some deep philosophical musings here. But, the philosophy (Taoism) is rather light and the story is mainly a heist with a touch of magic realism in an urban setting. There’s some fun 1980’s computer nostalgia and — happy surprise for a 1980s novel — a female computer programmer! The romance, which involves a middle-aged couple, is also refreshing. R.A. MacAvoy’s writing style is matter-of-fact and unornamented, making it a quick crisp read.
What didn’t work for me was that clearly I was supposed to be as enamored of Martha as Mayland was. I’m trying not to spoil anything here, but it’s important to the plot that she be perceived as an amazing and deep person — exactly what Mayland has been seeking for most of his life. I, however, didn’t think she was so great or even very interesting. In fact, she seemed irresponsible and childish. I just didn’t like her much and neither she nor her daughter Liz felt real to me.
The audio version of Tea With the Black Dragon was produced by Audible Studios and is just under 6 hours long. Megan Hayes does a nice job with the narration. Tea With the Black Dragon was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Compton Crook, and Philip K. Dick Awards. It received the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 1984. It has a sequel called Twisting the Rope which I will review soon.
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