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Book Reviews

The Scottish Banker of Surabaya

by Ian Hamilton

Now five books in, Toronto writer Ian Hamilton’s thriller series featuring Hong Kong–born, Toronto-based accountant Ava Lee has carved out a devoted following. Part of its appeal is due to a twice-yearly release schedule, which allows for the rapid accumulation of a backlist and fan base. But most of its success rests in Hamilton’s tight plotting, attention to detail, and complex powerhouse of a heroine: strong but vulnerable, capable but not impervious.

The Scottish Banker of Surabaya continues the increasingly violent trajectory of the most recent instalments, throwing Lee into conflict with Andy Cameron, the corrupt and reprehensible titular banker, and the ’Ndrangheta, a powerful Italian crime syndicate with global reach. It’s a case that challenges Lee in ways she has not encountered previously, and one she takes on only with great reluctance.

Lee is conscripted into attempting to recover $30 million that a community of Vietnamese-Canadian immigrants has lost in what seems, at first, to be a Ponzi scheme. Lee accepts the job without consulting her partner, Uncle, the aging former triad leader based in Hong Kong. The case quickly becomes more than a simple recovery operation, and events spiral out of Lee’s control.

As the book opens, Lee is recovering from wounds suffered at the end of the previous novel, The Red Pole of Macau, and Uncle’s health seems to be failing. Things get progressively worse for both. There is no easy resolution, and The Scottish Banker of Surabaya ends on a note of uncertainty.

Readers familiar with Lee’s adventures will find this to be one of the stronger entries in the series. Those new to her world will find the book easily accessible: elements that might be starting to irk longtime readers – including undigested chunks of backstory and exposition to fill in plot points and character relationships – mean newcomers can enter the series without feeling lost.

And enter they should. With their tight plotting and crackerjack heroine, Hamilton’s novels are the sort of crowd-pleasing, narrative-focused fiction we find all too rarely in this country.