Author: Ian Hamilton
Series: Ava Lee series
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Fiction; Action, Detective
Publisher: Spiderline / 2012
Cover Design: Daniel Cullen
Reason to Read: I read the first two novels in the series (The Water Rat of Wanchai and The Disciple of Las Vegas) last year, and I simply fell in love with Ava Lee. The Wild Beasts of Wuhan is the latest book in the series, and a fourth will drop in July 2012.
Ah, Ava Lee—Canada's sweetheart and James Bond's official successor, all wrapped into one clever, deadly package. I first discovered Ms. Lee while working a summer internship at House of Anansi Press, and among the many tricks of the trade I learned there, the greatest lesson was this: never judge a book by its genre.
Before Ava, I was a devout disbeliever of detective fiction and mysteries. I assumed their plots were formulaic, their writing was stale and unoriginal, and their characters were alcoholics/chain smokers/substance abusers. I was as biased against them as some readers are against my favourite genres (namely science fiction and fantasy). Imagine my surprise when I faced Ms. Lee, a formidable forensic accountant who's quick-witted, pure class, and damn sexy to boot.
Mr. Hamilton, I stand corrected.
And I have Ava Lee to thank for that.
Two months have passed since Ava's last assignment. While savouring the good weather on a family cruise around Curaçao, Ava takes a business call from Uncle. He has little information to offer, but the client—Wong Changxing, the "The Emperor of Hubei"—has called in an urgent favour and needs to meet with the duo immediately.
Wong, one of the most powerful men in China, is livid after discovering his collection of Fauvist paintings are forgeries. His love for the French masters of this colourful, bold movement collapses when a representative from Harrington's auction house informs Wong that at least seventeen of these paintings—with a combined total of eighty million dollars—were painted by professional forgers. With his pride at stake, Wong cannot afford a public scandal and his second wife May Ling will not allow their finances to be compromised further. Ava's reputation as a forensic accountant precedes her, and her particular brand of persuasion could help bring these thieves to light. But her gut reaction to Wong's revenge-lust sets Ava on the defensive, and May Ling's gradual interference in the investigation could prove disastrous to all parties involved…
In the meantime, Ava finds herself chasing a ring of fraudulent art dealers across Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Dublin, London, and New York in a bid to uncover the source of these forgeries and reclaim as much of Wong's money as possible.
Ian Hamilton ups the ante with The Wild Beasts of Wuhan—from the start, Ava's dealing with a cold case in which most of her logical first contacts are deceased. In addition, she's dealing primarily with May Ling, an unpredictable woman torn between her tested business acumen and the insult delivered to both her and her husband. To complicate matters further, Ava's fielding personal correspondence with her desperate half-brother Michael, her commitment-quick girlfriend Maria, and her two best friends who are rapidly domesticating back home in Toronto.
How Ava finds time to sleep is beyond me.
I've noticed Hamilton's dialogue has gotten cleaner with each new instalment, and it's an absolute treat to see Ava spar with the massive egos in the art appraisal business. Also, I was glad to see how much space Hamilton gave to the backend work of accounting—having worked in accounts before, I took a strange delight in the mass amounts of photocopying and collating Ava had to tackle. Sure, she gets to fly around the world, sleep in breathtaking hotels, and eat expensive food, but someone's got to match those invoices and reference those cheque numbers, am I right?
Also, I cannot applaud Hamilton enough for his realistic portrayal of Ava's relationship with Maria. While everyone knows a businesswoman (or man) can struggle to balance her personal and professional lives, Ava's got the added pressure of her girlfriend's insecurities when it comes to being out. At this moment, Ava is the only person who knows Maria is queer, and the closet can be a frightening place to revisit when one's spent years living outside of its confines. Later in the novel, Maria reaches a point where she wants to come out to her mother—and she wants Ava to be there for it. A difficult decision made even more complex by Ava's current contract…
Hamilton's fourth book—The Red Pole of Macau—drops in Canada this July 2012 and you can bet I will be first in line for Ava's next adventure.
Ideal for: Disbelievers of detective fiction and mystery stories; Kids who get a kick out of James Bond and his brand of suave, action-packed detective/spy work; Readers in need of a positive portrayal of a queer woman who just happens to kick lots of ass as well.