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Bookends: Globe trotting in order to follow the money January 28, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Globe trotting in order to follow the money

By Dan Davidson

July 29, 2015

– 787 words –

 The Water Rat Of Wanchai and The Dragon Head Of Hong Kong

By Ian HamiltonWater Rat

584 pages

Anansi

$14.54

Kindle edition- $9.99

I don’t suppose it actually matters what order you read these stories in. The Water Rat Of Wanchai was actually the first of the Ava Lee mysteries to be written, and it won the Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel. The Dragon Head Of Hong Kong is actually a novella, but it is set 10 years earlier and tells the story of how Ava Lee met the Hong Kong patron and partner who is generally referred to as Uncle in the books. While he does appear in the pages in person from time to time, he’s sort of Charlie to her one-woman Angel.

Ava Lee is a 115 pound Chinese-Canadian lesbian forensic accountant. She is the product of an odd (to Canadians) family arrangement in which her father (who lives in Hong Kong) has several wives and multiple families which he maintains in great comfort at different points around the globe. Lee happens to live in Toronto, but her job as a financial recovery expert takes her all over the world.

In this, the 69 year old Hamilton, a Welsh born Canadian, takes advantage of his earlier careers in journalism, the federal and provincial civil services and private enterprise, careers which have caused him to travel to and work in 30 different countries. As a result, Lee travels all over the world as part of the collection service she runs with Uncle.

In that first book she travels first to the Far East and then to Guyana in search of some misappropriated funds that a seafood company owes to her client. Lee’s method is to track the money and then find some way to persuade the crook or crooks to return it. She may simply steal it back electronically (since there is very little physical currency involved) or she may force the culprit to do it for her.

Sine she happens to be petite and gorgeous, men (and women) tend to underestimate her. “Though she be but little, she is fierce” as was said of Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the course of this adventure she runs up against the bullying brother of Captain Robbins, the corrupt police official who runs Guyana, and when that brother tries to strong-arm her she totally incapacitates him using a very lethal form of martial arts.

Robbins is not the target of her recovery scheme, but she needs to use him to get to the man who is, and when the Captain decides to get his own slice of the financial pie he tries to turn the tables on her.

Outsmarting Robbins, a formidable adversary indeed, turns out to be more difficult than she had thought it would be, but she does accomplish it and recovers the missing money in the end.

With The Water Rat, readers were asked to jump right in the deep end with a character unlike most of those they may have met. Some reviews compare her to Stieg Larson’s Lisbeth Salandar, but aside from her skill with computers, her size and physical prowess, there’s not much similarity. Lee is a well adjusted individual who knows who she is and has no difficulty dealing with people.

After he had produced seven books in the series (about two a year – he says writing is just his favourite thing ever) Hamilton backed up and wrote the novella which has been bundled with this reissue of the Water Rat. The Dragon Head Of Hong Kong takes us back to Lee’s first venture in financial repo work. At that point she is a trained forensic accountant who has found that she can’t stand working within the confines of an agency, so she strikes out on her own, handling mostly minor accountancy clients, but at least setting her own rules, even if the clientele is mostly referrals from friends of the family.

One of her clients, Hedrick Lo, has been swindled out of more than a million dollars by a Chinese importer named Johnny Kung, so she travels to Hong Kong to try to retrieve it. It emerges that Kung has also fallen afoul of the Uncle, and the two end up collaborating on a scheme to get him to cough up his ill-gotten gains. This, as Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Raines in Casablanca, turns out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’ll be looking for more of these, and I’ve already given my wife an omnibus edition (KOBO this time) for her birthday.

-30-

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