Over the last decade or so, I’ve found myself spending the new year reading books about Hong Kong published by Blacksmith Books. But this year I’ve been catching up on my towering to-be-read pile and have read a couple of Blacksmith Books before the new year.
While Blacksmith Books usually publishes non-fiction titles, once in a while it comes out with a novel. The Tiger Hunters of Tai O is their latest novel–written by John Saeki–and I’m glad I hadn’t put it off any longer. The story is set in the 1950s in a sleepy outpost on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island. Eurasian police detective Simon Lee was banished to the Tai O station after getting involved with the socialite daughter the Hong Kong Police Commissioner.
The story opens with an execution-style murder on the beaches of Tai O. Simon Lee is the last person to speak to the deceased, a Chui Chow immigrant who was said to be a Communist spy. Or was he? Lee and his Sikh partner try to solve the mystery of what happened to the man on the beach.
The structure doesn’t just follow Lee’s point of view, but shows what happens to the different characters in the book through their perspectives. I really liked that Saeki gives the reader clues here and there, all while keeping us wondering what really happened on that beach.
Saeki brings the reader back to old Hong Kong, when the end of World War II was only a decade old and the Communist revolution was still new. His story also shows the dwindling power of the British colonizers and the rise of the Americans as the Cold War went into full force. It’s hard to tell which colonial power is worse–the British or the Americans.
The Tiger Hunters of Tai O reminds me to William Marshall’s Yellowthread Street mysteries, set in a fictional part of Hong Kong that also features a Eurasian police detective. The series was humorous and at times absurd in a fun way, and Saeki’s characters enjoy those traits, too, especially the band of ragamuffins involved in Hong Kong’s underworld. But what I like about Saeki’s book that’s different from Marshall’s is that the former is set in a real part of Hong Kong, while Marshall’s fictional Hong Bay doesn’t resonate for people who know Hong Kong.
The Tiger Hunters of Tai O is out on Amazon on February 7, 2018 and available for pre-ordering now.