May 14, 2009: The reviews so far have been very positive, and added to those on the author’s web page obviously this story appeals strongly to a number of people. I personally found it compelling enough to continue reading to the end, and it has given me a colourful mental picture of Hong Kong life that I will never forget, but I also have a few dissatisfactions.
My likes: The setting, to me, steals the show – the city lights, the boats in the harbour – I have never been to Hong Kong, but now I can see it in my minds’ eye. And the wide variety of characters, from expat business people to police dectectives to shipyard workers: the concerns over saving face and "Joss", the issues discussed as the date of Chinese takeover nears . . . all vividly brought to life by someone who clearly knows the city well. There are many major and minor characters in this novel, and they are all given individuality and realistic backgrounds and roles to play in the plot.
Dislikes: Despite this, it was sometimes hard to keep track of them all. There were some sections where I gave up and skimmed over. One main character, an Australian woman detective, seemed to spend a lot of time in trivial conversations about going out for dinner, etc..which I also started to skip over. In a way, she seemed unnecessary to the story as the real detective work was being done by another character. I think the pace of the story would have been helped by being tightened up and simplified with a little less flitting back and forth between multiple characters. There was some characterization that felt off to me. For example, in the opening chapter Wanda is presented as extraordinarily charming and charismatic, yet there is little evidence of this in her behaviour; she is consistently petulant and childlike and most other characters seem to hold her in disdain. Probably the most jarring note was at the end, when the murderer(s) and motive(s) are revealed, the other characters’ reactions seem curiously blase. Thus, the emotional impact of the story becomes flat.
I’m not sure if the novel works as an Agatha Christie style detective novel with clues for the reader to solve; there are some clues, but the details of the crime seem to get solved very quickly at the end by the private knowledge of one character. But then, I’ve never been good at these, so I may well have missed something!
Will probably be enjoyed by people who like detective stories in exotic locales.
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