Ian Hamilton has crafted a series of novels about a forensic accountant, Ava Lee, who is Chinese-Canadian, and each one has been a fantastic ride, as well expanding on her character, and the world she lives in they’ve also introduced us to a variety of characters, some of whom have gone on to be fan favorites, Chow Tung, commonly known as Uncle is one of those.
In the Ava Lee novels, he is an older man, serving as her partner and adviser in their business, but in Ian Hamilton’s new novel, the first spin-off from the Ava Lee series, we get to see Uncle as a young man, and get more of his back story filled out.
Set in 1969, the story, which starts a decade earlier with Uncle’s infamous crossing of Shenzhen Bay to Hong Kong in search of a new life, the tale follows Chow’s first real test with the Fanling chapter of the Triads, where he serves as the White Fan – an accountant, lawyer position.
When the gang’s Mountain Master (the big boss) is killed in what may or may not be an accident, Chow finds himself thrown int a situation that could lead to gang warfare, and trouble not only for the gangs, but the police and civilians as well.
Told in Hamilton’s usual punchy, Fleming-esque style, we are plunged into Hong Kong of the late 60s and with his handling of prose and storytelling Hamilton puts us completely at our ease, even as we navigate a world we are unfamiliar with.
While the plot plays out fairly predictably, one can tell that there is a lot of set up and groundwork being done for future stories. And even knowing how the story has to play out, doesn’t change the fact that it’s very cool to see how Hamilton orchestrates it.
While Uncle is very recognizable as the character we know from the Ava Lee stories, this is a much younger character, not quite as fully formed as he was when we first encountered him with Ava. Instead this is a young man who is smart, a brilliant tactician and businessman, but a man who carries a pain of loss (something I’m convinced will play out in future novels), and whose loyalty to his gang is unquestionable, even if it means going against those who would lead.
This Hong Kong is different to the one we’ve visited with Ava, and Uncle moves through it comfortably, and as such serves as a perfect guide to us as we join him on the adventure that will be his life and connect him, eventually, with Ava.
The novel, available now from House of Anansi Press introduces is to a lot of new characters that will no doubt influence the tales to come (the next book, Foresight, is due out next Janary), and there are still characters who we know have to arrive.
It’s going to be a lot of fun seeing the way Uncle’s time with the triads plays out, and see the events that shaped the man we know in Ava’s time.
With two new books from Hamilton (the latest Ava Lee title The Goddess of Yantai came out in December) is there a better time to dig into these adventures and find a new source of great fiction?