Book Review: Ian Hamilton’s ‘The Water Rat of Wanchai’

By Kristi Charish

At our last Pop-Up networking event, ‘Science:It’s a Girl Thing!’, we got to talking about novels.

It’s hard to find a good book to read!

So, once a month (with the help of other SCWIST members out there) we’ll be putting up a book recommendation and review with an emphasis on Canadian writers!

The Ava Lee series by Canadian author Ian Hamilton was highly recommended to me at our SCWIST pop-up discussion last month. It’s published by the Canadian House of Anansi Press, and was supported by the Canadian Council of the Arts. The first book in the series,‘The Water Rat of Wanchai’, made a number of Amazon.ca top 100 lists, including editors pick and best books of the year, made the Toronto Star top five fiction books of the year and won the Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel of the year.

The protagonist, Ava Lee, is a Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who is paid big bucks to track down money that has been ‘misplaced’ by less than honest business partners. Sound like a boring profession? Anything but, and that stems from the fact that Ava takes a much more direct approach than run of the mill lawyers. Through creativity and persistence she traces the money, finds the culprit(s), and then ‘convinces’ embezzlers in person to return it. It’s not easy, it’s not safe, and makes for one heck of an entertaining read.

Ava is a well-written character and the plots contain enough twists to keep readers interested. Where many authors targeting a commercial market like this would shy away from portraying a female protagonist who is never a damsel in distress, Hamilton does it with sensitivity and style and truly makes this a character that everyone can relate to and root for.

I enjoyed the first installment of this series so much that I breezed through the second and third books. The fourth installment, ‘The Red Pole of Macau’, (hint: it’s a Triad reference, not an exotic dancing reference) came out this month and it lasted me all of a weekend!

You can make suggestions for next month’s book review here, on Facebook, or through Twitter with the #books.