Ava Lee is a Chinese Canadian lesbian forensic accountant, mentored by the late Uncle Chow Tung, retired – and very well connected – influential senior triad member. Ava and Uncle collected bad debts but Ava is also an international all-round vigilante/fixer/troubleshooter.
She is the creation of award winning Canadian novelist, Ian Hamilton, whose passion seems to be to deluge readers with his seemingly detailed knowledge of places and streets, etc to wow his largely western readers. However Hamilton is no Frederick Forysyth or Ken Follet and his attempts fall flat, especially for readers in Asia.
Still, The Water Rat of Wanchai won the Arthur Ellis for best first crime novel; it was a Quill and Quire top five novel of the year; an Amazon editor’s pick and an Amazon top 100 book of the year; and a Toronto Star top five novel of the year. It was also short listed for the CBC Bookie Award.
The Disciple of Las Vegas was short listed for the Barry Award as the best original paperback published in the United States in 2014. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan was short listed for the Lambda Award as the best lesbian crime/mystery novel of 2013.
BBC Culture named Hamilton as one of the ten mystery/crime writers from the last 30 years that should be on your bookshelf.
As of 2012, The Water Rat of Wanchai, was in the process of being adapted for film, with the screenplay written by Karen Walton.
In book 15, released this year, Ava Lee squares off against the Chinese government over a controversial film depicting the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre.
But Ava was almost a minor character in this book, which kind of pissed many readers off. I most enjoyed the books where Ava was being Ava. And Ava wasn’t present enough in this latest book to suit me. But thankfully we did get the faintest whiff of her perfume – Annick Goutal – to satisfy. The General of Tiananmen Square is not as good as The Disciple of Las Vegas (my favorite) but certainly not as bad as the last two before it, which are duds.
Hamilton says book 16 is already completed. Let’s hope we see more of Ava Lee and less of Hamilton trying to impress readers by showing off his – often inaccurate – knowledge of unnecessary details pertaining to places and streets, and other tedious, exhausting and banal information. Seriously, he needs to get over himself!
Since 2011, I’ve been reading Ava Lee in between the real – often scholarly – serious stuff I normally read. If you are interested, this is the right reading order:
Prequel: The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, 2013
1.The Water Rat of Wanchai, 2011
2. The Disciple of Las Vegas, 2011
3. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, 2011
4. The Red Pole of Macau, 2012
5. The Scottish Banker of Surabaya, 2012
6. The Two Sisters of Borneo, 2014
7. The King of Shanghai, 2014
8. The Princeling of Nanjing, 2015
9. The Couturier of Milan, 2017
10. The Imam of Tawi-Tawi, 2018
11. The Goddess of Yantai, 2018
12. The Mountain Master of Sha Tin, 2019
13. The Diamond Queen of Singapore, 2020
14. The Sultan of Sarawak, 2022
15. The General of Tiananmen Square, 2023
Hamilton also wrote four quite readable books on Uncle Chow Tung in a spinoff series. They are: Fate (2019) Foresight (2020), Fortune (2021) and Finale (2022).