Imagine Hong Kong just two months before control passed from British colonial administration to the People’s Republic of China. Picture the complex behind-the-scenes maneuvering between the British Secret Service who hold the reins in the colony and the military men who possess the real power in South China and are destined to rule Hong Kong. Now think about a gruesome triple murder, probably committed by Hong Kong triads. That murder threatens to derail the transfer of power and blacken the reputations of those in control on both sides of the political divide.
This is the reality into which Chief Inspector “Charlie” Chan of the Hong Kong Royal Police is thrust when he is assigned the triple murder case. As you might imagine, in such deep and troubled waters, Chan quickly finds himself confronting the rich and powerful whose whims can distort reality: Emily Ping, a beautiful billionaire with a voracious sexual appetite and mysterious connections; the aging General Xian, who calls the shots in South China; Milton Cuthbert, the scholarly “political adviser” from the Secret Service who is Xian’s counterpart in the city-state; “Wheelchair” Lee, a triad fighter with useless legs; Clare Coletti, a young American heroin addict “owned” by the New York Mafia; and Jonathan Wong, Charlie’s brother-in-law, a greedy lawyer in a prominent Hong Kong firm. These key figures, and other, assorted police officials, diplomats, and triad members, who populate this endlessly complex and unpredictable tale.
The Last Six Million Seconds by John Burdett (1997) 402 pages ★★★★☆
The Last Six Million Seconds — the time remaining for British control of Hong Kong as the story opens — is a worthy effort by the British writer, former attorney, and long time Hong Kong resident John Burdett. First published in 1997 on the eve of the Hong Kong transfer, Six Million was only recently reissued on the heels of Burdett’s success with a series of five other thrillers.
Like a great many other readers, I became aware of Burdett’s work with the publication of Bangkok 8, which introduced an extraordinary Thai detective named Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a complex Buddhist police detective known throughout Bangkok for his brilliance and incorruptibility in a cesspool of corruption and mediocrity. Bangkok 8 has been followed so far by Bangkok Tattoo, Bangkok Haunts, The Godfather of Kathmandu, and Vulture Peak. I’ve read and enjoyed them all, though I’ve reviewed only the two most recent novels. (Links to those reviews are embedded in the titles.)
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