Is there such a thing as a “forensic accountant?” If not, you’ll wish there were after meeting Ava Lee, the lead character in Ian Hamilton’s intriguing and seductive debut novel, THE DISCIPLE OF LAS VEGAS, also the launch of a new series.
Ava makes her living tracking down and retrieving huge amounts of missing money. After several years at this trade, she and her partner — and sometime mentor, referred to only as Uncle — can easily afford to take on one client at a time. Their latest client is one of the richest men in the Philippines, Tommy Ordonez, from whose accounts $50 million has disappeared.
Ordonez fears there might be a close family connection to the missing money.
Ava and Uncle immediately follow the path of the missing millions, taking them from the Philippines to Costa Rica, San Francisco, London and, finally, Las Vegas, where she meets a legendary professional poker player known as The Disciple.
Along the way, Ava discovers the location of the missing money and the near-invisible fraud responsible for the loss of Ordonez’s fortune. The closer she gets to the truth, however, the greater the threats to her life from those who would rather kill than be exposed.
Hamilton knows that there are personalities behind every monetary success story. So one of the surprising joys of this book is the myriad of characters Ava encounters while tracing the money. They range from the cloistered, work-a-day paper-pushers to the high-profile executives seemingly unaware of the illegalities of their business practices, and the high-stakes gamblers for whom losing thousands in a matter of seconds is a common occurrence.
Nationalities and race also are also often related to money matters, and Ava quickly discovers that shame and the defaming of a reputation can be just as painfully damaging as the loss of money. Hamilton uses each of these characters and traits to explain the often complex methods by which money is made, accounted for, invested, transferred and — as often is the case — stolen. He succeeds in making these financial complexities much more human, and thus much more understandable.
Ava herself is presented as a very worthy series star. Although petite and attractive, she is also skilled in martial arts and is not hesitant to kick butt when defending herself. Over the course of the novel, she demonstrates her resourcefulness at business negotiations, but when called for, her techniques of “persuasion” are as brutal as those of any underworld thug.
The one weakness in this debut is a shadowy, disgruntled figure from a previous case who issues a hit contract on Ava. The entire incident and threat are always mentioned after discussing the details of the novel’s central case … and then just as quickly disposed. It was obviously intended to add suspense to the story, but could just as well have been completely avoided.
Hamilton’s debut rates high for alluring entertainment and escapism that manages to feel worthy of our time, and even includes a sneak-peek excerpt from THE WILD BEASTS OF WUHAN, the author’s next Ava Lee novel, due this summer.
So if you ever wanted to find a worthy crime/mystery series to get into from the ground floor, here’s your chance. —Alan Cranis