Tuesday, 12 March 2013
The Water Rat of Wanchai - Canadian mystery series
The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton is the first book in the Ava Lee series. It's a new to me Canadian author and mystery series. And it's good.
Ava Lee is a 2nd generation Chinese woman, who lives in Toronto and works as a forensic accountant. She isn't just an accountant, however. She specializes in finding money that is stolen, and in retrieving it. Most of her cases come through her uncle, an honorary title for any older man that is a friend in her family (and culturally an honorific title). Uncle is a mainland born Chinese who swam across the Chinese Sea when a young man, with a few others from his village. Those that made it, developed close ties, and help each other when they can in the ensuing years. Now, far in the future, the nephew of one of the men who swam with Uncle, is in trouble. The family fortune - 5 million dollars - has been stolen by the owners of a food packing business that they were doing business with. Uncle calls Ava, and she talks with the sister of David Tam, the head of the household who was responsible for the family business, in Toronto, over dim sum, before deciding if she will take the case.
This isn't your average money is missing let's find it case, though that is what it is at its bare bones. This a solidly-developed idea. Ava Lee is an interesting character, a woman who is skilled at the secret art of bak mei. It is normally reserved for highly skilled martial arts males, but Ava has shown so much talent and technical skill - advancing so fast in her ordinary classes - that she is offered to meet the Grandmaster in Toronto, who teaches this, one on one. All this, and she is 5 foot three and weighs slightly over 100 pounds. Ava can take care of herself, and as this mystery develops, she will have to, several times over.
The Tam family works from Hong Kong, so Ava travels to Hong Kong, Thailand, Seattle, Texas, Guyana, and West Virgin Islands in the course of this mystery. She is a character who is resourceful, clever, ingenious, and always at her back is the mysterious and frightening figure of uncle. Mysterious because Ava herself doesn't know much about him, and frightening because he is a scary man. Slight of figure, old, he has the triads at his disposal if he needs them. Before Ava came along, he was using 'muscle', threats, and violence to get the thieves to return the money in past cases. Even Ava has not dared to ask if they were triad links, or just favours owed to Uncle. Ava was first hired to work to determine if the money was stolen. Eventually, Ava developed a way of asking when she realized that she didn't like the violence, and that most of the perpetrators would eventually hand it back if given a choice - and there was no way out. So she and Uncle work well together, though she is very careful in every dealing and talk with him. Much if this is in flashback, which is short and does not detract from the story at all. It creates mystery and danger right from the start. Uncle and Ava decide together if they are going to take a case, though Uncle does let his ties to the men from the village push him in this case to taking it.
The mystery itself is good - the money has been stolen, and it's fun watching Ava piece together what happened to it. Who took it? Where is it now? How did they hide it?
It's a fascinating mystery. Bangkok comes to life, as does Guyana in all it's terrible danger and poverty. Watching Ava track the money, and eventually the two partners who stole it, and how dangerous the situation she finds herself in - and gets herself out of - is breathtaking. Ava is also gay, so if you are looking for a book for LGBTQ challenge, this is a good one to include. It's not a big part of the book, though it is part of her character. Watching how men respond to her, and how she has to decide to reveal who she is - or not - is fun. She is very attractive and fit, and she finds it strange that so many white men are attracted to her. This gives another unusual perspective to this series.
This is a really good debut mystery. So good in fact, that I can't settle down to read anything else because I have to know what happens next to her. There are 5 books now in the series, and I will be heading to the bookstore tomorrow to get number 2, The Disciple of Las Vegas. Highly recommended.
****edited to add: I can't include this in the Double Dog Dare challenge, as I bought this just before my operation. So far it's the only thing I've read that I bought since Jan 1! Definitely worth breaking the double dare challenge for.