The previous volumes in the Ava Lee series sketched her character as slightly as the silhouette in the striking cover designs* but The Red Pole of Macau takes Ava into new emotional territory; it is a worthy addition to the series and has reignited my interest in this character’s adventures.
If you’re new to the series, it begins with The Water Rat of Wanchai. Here’s a snippet from my thoughts on it (you can read in full here), and the statement is true, too, of The Red Pole of Macau:
“The novel’s prose is deliberate and no-nonsense. If Ava wasn’t Ava, it might seem clinical, even overly-analytical at times, but the style reflects Ava Lee perfectly: slightly formal, certainly, but not impersonal.”
The second volume is The Disciple of Las Vegas, and here’s a peek at my impressions of Ava’s pattern of relating, which remain intact (the complete post is here):
“Ava studied at university to be an accountant and she is, above all, a business woman. She views her interactions and contracts with solid entries of debits and credits, always operating strictly according to a moral code that affords enough room for justice to satisfy the reader.”
And the third volume is The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, and the elements described below are consistent with the series’ earlier installments and the latest as well (my compete thoughts are here):
“Readers who enjoy travelling to a variety of destinations (Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the Faeroe Islands, Dublin, London, and New York in this volume), who want to run through the city parks with Ava, will be pleased with Ian Hamilton’s works. Readers who enjoy shopping vicariously as much as they enjoy armchair travelling in their mystery reading: these readers likely will be satisfied too.”
In short, what readers of earlier Ava Lee mysteries found in the first three volumes is consistent with what’s presented in the fourth.
Ava herself is perfectly Ava-ish.
“She was a woman who had curiosity.” [Ava describes an American woman she met.]
“It comes with the job, though I do admit it is a natural bent.”
Working with Ava, forensic accountant extraordinaire, is business as Ava-usual.
“Derek had described it best, she thought, when he said that working with her was twenty-three hours and fifty minutes of waiting and boredom followed by ten minutes of action and terror.”
The details of the job have changed, but the seemingly impossible nature of the task is familiar.
“The house was completely isolated, set back against a rock outcropping, with a stand of trees to its right and a mountain face to its left. It was surrounded entirely by a brick wall that had to be five metres high, topped by thin strands of wire; the only visible entrance was the gate which was made of decorative heavy-duty stainless steel crowned with rolls of razor wire.”
And Ava’s way of coping with impossible tasks is familiar, too.
“She lived mainly in her own head, driven by a pattern that came as naturally to her as breathing: link A to B and then B to C, and keep going until you get to the end. It wasn’t complicated. People were what made things complicated.”
The timeline remains tight; she barely had a day in Toronto before she’s flying over the South China Sea, on her way to help unravel some trouble with her half-brother’s business. This allows the reader to feel fully engaged in Ava’s life, and it adds to the credibility of the story overall.
Ava does less globe-trotting, but this story contains many details about Hong Kong and Macau (Portugal’s former colony, now with a population of 500,000 of which 95% is Chinese, with the most dense population on earth: 20,000 people/square kilometre) , and the more consistent setting allows for the story to focus on other matters.
Readers will find a lot of brand names, beginning with Ava’s Moleskin notebook on page 13 and her Chanel Purse two pages later. Ava’s preferences remain consistent: she likes what she likes.
(The red sticky notes with which I flagged these references far outnumbered the blue sticky notes, although I did feel as though there were fewer references overall, with more generic descriptions that allowed the reader to fill in the blank; given the pace at which the story moves, I maintain that the frequent mentions are an unnecessary distraction.)
(Another aspect of the series which has niggled me in the past has also altered somewhat; the size of Ava’s breasts is not commented upon early in the novel — not until page 60 does somebody ogle them.)
What truly makes this volume an essential element of the series, however, is the relationship between Ava and her brother.
Given that the plot of The Red Pole of Macau revolves around a problem with Michael’s business, any detailed discussion of the ways in which Ava’s relationship with him develops would contain spoilers; suffice it to say that the connection between them allows for new facets of her character to be revealed.
Even Ava, herself, seems somewhat surprised by her emotional response to the problems that Michael is facing, and particularly in the mystery genre, it is a delight to be surprised.
Ian Hamilton’s The Red Pole of Macau contains all-the-usual-Ava-ness — and then some.
Have you met Ava Lee?
*Cover designs by Daniel Cullen, Series published under the oh-so-aptly-named Spiderline imprint
Day 16 of 45: My mini-reading pile feels like the perfect representation of the variety of materials you can find in the Anansi catalogue: a collection of poetry and a memoir (on the same theme) and a collection of stories, a YA novel and a classic Canlit novel (each of those three fitting with a separate theme). And have you seen the new Sara Maitland book about fairy tales and forests? Oh, my.