The Water Rat of Wanchai

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The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton. Anansi 2011.

I read a positive review of this book in the newspaper one weekend, and the next time I was in the library, there it was, on display and available. I usually stick to mysteries and don’t read many thrillers, but it was too handy to pass up. I thought I’d give it a try.

Water Rat is Ian Hamilton’s first novel in a planned series featuring forensic accountant Ava Lee. Yeah, I wondered what a forensic accountant is too. Apparently, it is someone who tracks down money that has mysteriously disappeared. Ava is a young Chinese-Canadian woman who lives in Toronto, but her work takes her all over the world. Her partner is the mysterious “Uncle”, who lives in Hong Kong. On this occasion, Uncle has asked Ava to recover $5 million for the nephew of a friend, Andrew Tam. Tam loaned the money to a seafood company that had a contract to supply a large American supermarket chain with shrimp. But the contract was cancelled, the shrimp disappeared, and now the money is missing too. Tam is desperate.

Ava follows the trail of the money first to Hong Kong and Bangkok and then to Guyana and the British Virgin Islands. Finding the money is one thing. Recovering it is another, and when Ava arouses the interest of the local criminal mastermind in Georgetown, things get sticky.

Ava Lee is a remarkable young woman, clever, educated, martial-arts trained. She’s another jogger, a passion that seems to be common amongst fictional detectives. At one point in the novel, she jogs 16 kilometers in the midday heat just for something to do while she’s waiting for a message. Although little snippets of her story are revealed, she remains underdeveloped as a character. However, as this is the first novel in a series, Hamilton is perhaps planning on fleshing out her portrait over several books.

The destinations visited by Lee are exotic and mostly unsavoury. Hamilton provides interesting cultural and physical descriptions that really bring the locales to life. Major landmarks of Georgetown, such as St. George’s Anglican Cathedral and Bourda Market are mentioned, along with observations on the state of the roads, the infrastructure, or lack thereof, etc.

The story moves swiftly, with a nice balance between tension and action. The violence is not described in excruciating detail, which I appreciated. Ava’s next assignment is introduced late in the novel and The Disciple of Las Vegas is due out this summer. Water Rat is an intricately plotted thriller, and this series may be one to watch.

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