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Literature / Tea with the Black Dragon

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Tea with the Black Dragon is a 1983 novel by R. A. MacAvoy.

Martha Macnamara arrives in San Francisco to visit her computer programmer daughter Elizabeth, and is faced with two puzzles. The first is Mayland Long, an enigmatic Chinese gentleman who has made his home in the hotel where she's staying, an expert in languages who tells fascinating stories and speaks casually of legendary figures as if they were personal acquaintances.

The second is Liz, who in the short space of time since she invited her mother to visit has disappeared without a trace.

A sequel, Twisting the Rope, was published in 1986.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Book Ends: The first thing Martha says to Mayland Long in the first chapter is that with hands like his he should be a piano player. The last thing she says in the final chapter is to offer to teach him to play.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The model yacht in Rasmussen's office. It's a replica of the real yacht he bought with his share of the criminal loot, and the real yacht is the scene of the novel's climax.
  • Crime After Crime: The situation escalates because of this. It starts with a bit of non-violent electronic theft. Then the villains turn to blackmail to cover up the theft. Then they try kidnapping Martha to get Liz to co-operate. Then Threve loses his temper and beats Martha so badly he thinks he's killed her. At which point they figure that since they're already on the hook for murder they might as well give up on coercion and kill Liz too, along with Mayland and anyone else who gets in the way...
  • Don't Be Ridiculous: During Martha's first conversation with Mayland Long, he tells her a version of the tale of Thomas the Rhymer, which continues past the usual ending point to talk about Thomas's son. When he finishes, she remarks that he tells it with such authority she could almost believe he'd had it from Thomas in person.
    "From the Rhymer?" He leaned forward and lifted his eyebrows in mock wonderment. "How could that be? ... I have the story from the boy, of course. The Rhymer's son.
    "Beautiful boy," he added, after a moment. "Resembled his mother."
  • Genre-Busting: Tea with the Black Dragon is a contemporary cybercrime adventure story, but the dragon of the title is not just a metaphor.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Mayland Long gets one at the climax, after he gets a chance to tell Martha he loves her and she reciprocates.
  • Hey, Wait!: Mayland Long infiltrates a building to investigate one of the villains. As he exits an elevator, he hears someone shout "Hold it!" ... but she just wants him to hold the elevator for her.
  • Is This What Anger Feels Like?: When Martha is abducted, Mayland Long gets angry, and spends a little while exploring the feeling, because he's never been angry before. For most of his life he's been powerful and invulnerable, so there's been nothing for him to be angry about.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: Mayland Long's hands are unusually shaped, with very long fingers. Most of the people who pay enough attention to him to notice find them disconcerting; Martha merely comments that with hands like that he has the potential to become an remarkable piano player.
  • Mythical Motifs: The black dragon.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Part of the plot involves a document the villains want to get their hands on because it details their wrong-doings. It turns out that, in addition to the physical document, there is an electronic back-up copy — saved on Rasmussen's own office computer, hidden among the boring documents of the office's day-to-day operations.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Tea with the Black Dragon starts with Chinese legends, and adds a few wrinkles of its own.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Liz and Mayland Long are abducted by one of the villains, in the course of which Mr. Long gets pistol-whipped twice: the first time in the back of the head, which dazes him long enough to be bundled into the trunk of the villain's car, and the second time when he tries to escape at the other end of the car journey, this time connecting with his temple and knocking him unconscious for several hours.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Liz and Mayland Long are abducted by one of the villains and taken on a journey in his car trunk.
  • Stealing the Credit: Part of the backstory is that when Liz was Carlo Peccolo's grad student he had a tendency to shove his work off onto her and then claim the credit for her successes. One of the things he shoved off on her was a bank security system; because Peccolo's name was on it, Rasmussen could put Liz to work on the other half (overriding her attempt to recuse herself), thus giving Liz the keys to the whole bank and kicking off the whole plot.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Mayland Long's brown eyes appear in various shades at different times, including several key moments when they shine golden.
  • Vehicle Vanish: Martha's disappearance.
    She stepped into the street. A bus pulled into the crosswalk behind her, concealing her from Mayland Long's sight. A black Lincoln stopped at the corner parallel to her path, then turned right into the crosswalk.
    The light changed as Mr. Long reached the corner. He raised his eyes over the roofs of the cars, seeking the blue dress along the next block.
    She was not there.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: A gentle one from Mr. Long to Liz: he says she's perfectly within her rights to get involved in dangerous games, but once she's entered that arena, it's not on to go running to her mother for help.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: After getting involved in Mayland Long's investigation, Fred notices his strange hands and for a moment imagines that Long is an alien detective come to Earth to catch an alien criminal. A downplayed example, because he never really believes it and it doesn't affect his actions. As far as the criminals go, it's wrong because they're ordinary humans in a realistic crime drama, and as far as Mr. Long goes, it happens he's right about Mr. Long not being exactly human but wrong about what genre of inhuman creature Mr. Long used to be.