Review:

The Water Rat of Wanchai - Ian Hamilton

They had been profitable years, with Ava earning enough money for the condo and the car and an impressive investment portfolio. But the best thing about the jobs she and Uncle did was the ride getting to the money – it was never the same twice, and though it taxed her emotionally, it also forced her to expand her senses and her thought processes. Then there were the clients. Although she complained about them sometimes, especially those who in utter desperation were far too clinging and demanding, she also accepted Uncle’s conviction that they were simply lost souls looking for redemption. “When we get them their money back, what we are really doing is saving their lives,” he would say. Ava believed that, too.

Ava Lee is a forensic accountant, but we learn very little about what forensic accountants do in this book, because right from the get-go, Ava Lee turns into this shady figure tracking down people and information by using any means necessary – deception, coercion, chloral hydrate, but very little accounting.

Oh, I am so conflicted about this book. I really wanted to like this a lot. I was really hoping to find a new series that would fill that silly void left by other series about action-packed espionage. And this one looked good because the idea of a Bond-like figure written as a woman sounded too good to pass by.

However, the execution of the book didn’t live up to my expectations at all. There are silly plot elements that required me to suspend disbelief just a little too much, like when Ava calls up a shipping company out of the cold and they remember every single details about a one-off, very ordinary, transaction from 8 weeks earlier, and they didn’t even have to consult their files? I found that hardly credible.

There were other elements of the writing that also grated on me: the use of brand names instead of descriptions, was a major annoyance. I find this so lazy. Even if we get to learn that someone wore Adidas pants, it still doesn’t tell me what colour or style or whether they were tracksuit bottoms or the more fashion-conscious kind. All I know is that they may have stripes down the sides (tho not all of them do…).

So lazy. Yet, this book is full of this. Brand names appear so often that I once even laughed at how the multitude of product placement compared to a James Bond film, which is famously full of the same advertising.

There was one particular scene where the author has Ava decide between two hotels in Hong Kong (or was it Macao), and I literally had to skip the page because I was not going to put up with reading an advertising leaflet for the Mandarin Oriental. Still, as we can see, the advert worked as I will forever remember the name of the hotel. Gaaaahhh…

I’m so annoyed about this. And I haven’t even mentioned Ava’s addition to a particular kind of Starbucks coffee sachet… In all of this, what I can only describe as an exercise to replace descriptive writing with consumerist imagery, the plot and character development gets left behind.

In the first half of the book, Ava does little else than answer phone calls and jump on planes to exotic locations.  In the second half of the book, the plot thickens. Or rather, Ava breaks out her martial art skills to kidnap someone…

Ironically, this is where I should have really gotten into the book and just didn’t. It took me a lot longer to finish the book than I thought, because I just could not face the tedium of reading about Ava’s attempts to restore money to a company account. I think I’d have been more interested in it if the underlying purpose had not been quite so … transactional, and if there had been more emphasis on the characters involved.

 

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