THE SCOTTISH BANKER OF SURABAYA by Ian Hamilton (Anansi), 437 pages, $19.95 paper. Ian Hamilton reads Wednesday (March 20) with Linwood Barclay, Becky Masterman and S.J. Parris as part of Harbourfront’s readings series in the Brigantine Room. See listings. Rating: NNNN
In today's crowded mystery market, it's no easy feat coming up with a protagonist who stands out from the pack. But local novelist Ian Hamilton has made a great job of it with his Ava Lee books. Young, stylish, Chinese Canadian, lesbian and a brilliant forensic accountant, Ava is as complex a character as you could want.
In The Scottish Banker Of Surabaya, the fifth book in the highly addictive series, Ava is recovering at a Lake Couchiching cottage from a gunshot wound acquired during her last job. She's at something of a crossroads, trying to decide whether to accept a lucrative job offer in a different line of work or continue to team up with her partner Uncle, an elderly Hong Kong ex-Triad boss, in their debt-collecting business.
Ava's mother forces her hand by committing her to help a friend who has been victimized, along with other members of Toronto's Chinese community, by a Ponzi scheme. What looks like a simple case turns out to be a lot bigger - and scarier - than expected, with Ave jetting to Hong Kong to consult with Uncle, and then to Indonesia hot on the money trail.
Her relationship with Uncle is a complicated one. In the midst of her hunt for the missing millions, she begins to suspect there's something seriously wrong with his health. Fiercely loyal, intensely private and all business, she'll go to any lengths to get their clients' money back and help Uncle.
Hamilton knows how to keep the pages turning. He eases us into the seemingly tame world of white-collar crime, then raises the stakes, bringing the action to its peak with an intensity and violence that's stomach-churning. His Ava Lee is a winner and a welcome addition to the world of strong female avengers.