This is one of my all-time favourite series. They are consistently 4-star reads for me and from the first time I picked up “The Water Rat of Wanchai”, the first book in the series, I’ve been hooked. The novels revolve around Ava Lee, a young, gay, Chinese-Canadian forensic accountant who recovers money stolen in financial scams perpetrated by one shady businessman on another.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Toronto, Canada, Ava is bicultural and as the series progresses, we learn a lot about Chinese culture both in Asia and in Canada. I read a book review in the National Post that describes Ava’s personality and how it is shaped much better than I ever could:
“Like any Hong Kong ID card-carrier, she’s brand-conscious, work-obsessed, pragmatic and loyal to her family. Like any Canadian passport holder, she’s culturally sensitive, well-mannered, able to blend in and independent.” - The Water Rat of Wanchai, reviewed by Kevin Chong, National Post, 2011
In the most recent instalment of the series, Ava gets a call from an old friend of her partner Uncle asking for a favour. Family loyalty kicks in and Ava finds herself on the way to the Philippines to investigate reports of an international terrorist training centre located on the remote island province of Tawi-Tawi. If the reports are true, it will destabilize the Philippine political landscape and economy and more terrifyingly, launch a deadly series of attacks on the world.
The last few books in the series, like this one (which is #10), have taken Ava outside of both Canada and China. This is a departure from the first books in the series but is no less effective in furthering Ava’s story and globe-trotting exploits. It maintains the central theme of the entire series and continues to present Ava with morally ambiguous options where no decision is clearly right or wrong. Ava is required to rely on her own judgement, morals and loyalty.
If you liked “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson, you may want to consider picking up this series. While Ava is not as broken as Lisbeth Salander, her intelligence, kick ass martial arts skills and sheer tenacity are reminiscent.
Finally, a shout-out to the publisher, House of Anansi Press (and their imprint Spiderline). It couldn’t have been an easy choice to publish a series of books where the main character is female, non-white and gay…let alone the first novel which had “rat” in the title. Who picks up a book about a water rat...besides me of course...