THE RED POLE OF MACAU, the third title in Ian Hamilton’s series featuring the beautiful and ultra-resourceful Ava Lee, presents the forensic accountant with her most personal and physically challenging case to date.
Ava Lee met her businessman half-brother, Michael, for the first time during the events of her last case (in Hamilton’s previous novel, THE WILD BEASTS OF WUHAN). That she has spent most of life never knowing Michael is not surprising, considering the often complex structure of traditional Chinese families. Now Michael asks for Ava’s help.
Michael and his longtime friend and business partner, Simon To, invested a huge amount of money in a real estate development deal in Macau, the popular, Las Vegas-styled gambling capital of China. When the developers turn out to be Triad gangsters, Michael and Simon discover they have been scammed and are threatened with bankruptcy. Ava knows she must help Michael, not only because of the money involved, but also because of the shame his business failure would bring to their father’s reputation.
Then, in the midst of negotiations, the gangsters kidnap Simon and demand more money for his return. Ava knows that, pay or not, Simon’s life is in great danger, so she pulls together a plan to rescue him. This plan means breaking into the gangsters’ heavily guarded, fortress-like house in Macau.
In her previous cases, Ava relied mostly upon her extensive knowledge of how money works and the power this knowledge gave her over her adversaries. Now, however, she must mount something close to a military maneuver to rescue her brother’s partner. She tries to maintain her usual poised confidence, but she knows she is involved in a scheme unlike anything she has ever undertaken.
Yet Hamilton also makes this a very personal challenge for Ava by involving her half-brother and, ultimately, her father. Ava even feels the case is too personal to share with Uncle, her elderly but well-connected mentor and boss. When she finally confides in Uncle, she learns the dangerous reality of the gangsters she is dealing with and their ties to the traditions of the once-dominant Triad gangs. Then Uncle convinces Ava to rely upon the powerful resources of a former client, May Ling Wong, a woman Ava greatly mistrusts.
These new challenges allow Hamilton to demonstrate his considerable talents at depicting action sequences — skills previously reserved for the quick moments when Ava resorts to her martial-arts defenses. Hamilton includes all the necessary details, but refuses to allow the pace to bog down. This is in addition to his already established talents at presenting far-flung locations — such as the crowded, skyscraper-dominated city of Macau and its continual efforts to cramp more casinos into a space less than half that of Las Vegas.
If there is a fault to this third book, it is its reliance upon the events of its predecessor, the earlier mentioned BEASTS OF WUHAN. Familiarity with it is necessary not so much to understand Michael, but more to appreciate why Ava is so reluctant to trust — much less even be in the presence of — May Ling Wong. The author tries to supply a bit of backstory for the uninitiated, but it is sketchy and ambiguous.
For those who have read and enjoyed the previous books, THE RED POLE OF MACAU is a welcome and enhancing addition to the series. Others would do well to start with the debuting THE DISCIPLE OF LAS VEGAS or minimally with the second title before enjoying this latest case. —Alan Cranis