I’m not usually into ghost stories or supernatural ones, but the Hong Kong and Macau settings of Lawrence Osborne’s new novel sealed the deal for me. I loved The Ballad of a Small Player (Random House, 2014) and even the ghost part worked for me.
Lord Doyle is a great character. He’s no lord, but rather an English lawyer who studied and worked his way out of his family’s modest means. When handling the estate of an elderly client, he started to siphon money from her account. By the time she died, he had transferred all of it to an offshore bank account in–ta da–Hong Kong!
From Hong Kong he made his way to the casinos of Macau and didn’t have a care in the world if he won or lost. It wasn’t his money, after all. His game was punta banco baccarat, and he soon found himself down and out just like the other compulsive gamblers.
Then he met the alluring Dao-Ming, a high class hooker à la Suzie Wong but without Suzie’s bubbly naïveté. Dao-Ming saves Lord Doyle on a number of occasions, the most memorable a binge at the lobby restaurant of Hong Kong’s Intercontinental (HK diehards will remember it as the Regent).
When Doyle has all that he wants, he reassesses what’s really important to him. But is it too late?
I loved the Hong Kong and Macau setting, just as I thought I would. For instance, this is how he describes Doyle approaching Hong Kong from a Macau ferry:
I turned my head and suddenly saw the steel and glass towers penetrating a mantle of stationary mist, a Wagnerian spectacle of pure horror that overwhelmed any petty thoughts of my own. It so surprised me that I stepped back from the precipice and caught my breath. (page 92)
The story is a little like Leaving Las Vegas, which to me is so much more exciting in HK and Macau. The book also reminds me of a 1950s film noir called The Scavengers.
I read a review copy and in it there were some factual inaccuracies Hong Kong side (maybe they’ve been changed in the final version?), but I can overlook those because everything else worked so well. Lawrence Osborne is a fabulous writer and tells a thrilling story, even though I still don’t really get the ghost part. But that’s me, not the writer.
I hope he’ll write another book set in Hong Kong and Macau.