The Sniper (2021) – Chang Kuo-Li

Taiwanese author Chang Kou-Li delivers an action thriller this week. With its North American debut, The Sniper, is available now from House of Anansi Press, features a translation by Roddy Flagg and reads like the best of Hong Kong cinema. There are action beats, police investigations, involving characters and a weaving story that takes you into a dark underworld of arms deals, government cover-ups and snipers.

In Taiwan, a police inspector, Wu, is days from retirement when he catches two cases that the government wants classed as suicides, though they are very obviously murders, while in Italy, a sniper named Alex (who has found contentment with his cooking), under orders, takes out a high profile politician negotiating for arms.

What follows is a fast-paced tale that sends both Wu and Alex scrambling to discover the truth before it’s too late, and neither of them are ready for where the story takes them. I love the novel’s pacing style, and how the visuals are painted. In fact they work so well that Chang Kou-Li joins the ranks of a select few authors that when I read them, I no longer see the words, I just see the story playing out in my mind’s eye.

The whole story plays out like a beautifully shot action film. It’s a crisp, taut thriller of a page-turner that I couldn’t put down and which takes you in from the get-go. Both of the story’s protagonists, Alex and Wu come across as real people, though incredibly different, and one can’t help but feel sorry for Wu, who just wants to get through these last few days and retire without any excitement.

That’s not going to happen, of course, and the reader is taken on a rider that doesn’t stop until the final pages of the book as Wu, and Alex begin to untangle the mystery, uncover a conspiracy (and I love how that played out! Without spoilers, it’s almost a noir-ish ending), and all before either of them are taken out by a sniper’s bullet.

The novel is filled with a descriptive writing style, which must be absolutely beautiful in its source language, and occasionally suffers in the translation, but never detracts from the story itself. The images that are painted conjure action beats, and lonely moments as investigations weigh on the characters. And poor Wu, he just wants to retire and live with his wife and son.

This is a book that took me by surprise, I am delighted with how much I enjoyed it. It is the literary version of Hong Kong cinema, and is a helluva read.

The Sniper by Chang Kuo-Li is available now from House of Anansi Press.

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