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by Ian Hamilton
Spiderline/House of Anansi Press, January 2020
336 pages
$19.95 CAD
ISBN: 1487003994

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Fair warning: this is going to be one of those reviews that begins with the reviewer insisting how they very much wanted to like the book in question. That is an insufferable, inexcusable cliche, but so is Ian Hamilton's new "Uncle" Chow Tong suspense novel FORESIGHT. A spin-off of Hamilton's Eva Lee series, in which said lesbian finance specialist investigates fiduciary chicanery that slides into crime, FORESIGHT features a Hong Kong organized-crime boss, the cool, calculating, outwardly unemotional Triad, who, like every Byronic hero back to Byron's original Orient-haunting pirate Conrad (The Corsair, 1813), is secretly a softie traumatised by the tragic death of the woman he loves, a catastrophe that informs all his vigilante acts.

In 1980, Uncle has realised that drug dealing attracts negative police attention and gambling isn't much of a retirement plan, even when the casinos are as vigorously patronised as the ones in Macau. Meanwhile, China is offering unprecedented entrepreneurial opportunities to some of its own citizens, for a price. Uncle falls in with a shady character across the water in mainland Shenzhen, a wannabe knockoff designer clothes baron named Ming, whose first venture involves Lacoste fakes manufactured in converted chicken coops.

Uncle decides to get in on this venture, ignoring the obvious labor ethics issues, of course. He wants to help Ming build Factory No. 2, but his obstacles involve predictable Mainland Communist bureaucracy and even more predictable rival triads. The title refers to Uncle's uncanny ability to detect that there might be money in collaboration with the Mainland, in spite of China seeming like a dream market to every outsider back to the comically disastrous 1792 trade-pursuing expedition of Lord Macartney, if not to the possibly apocryphal Marco Polo almost five centuries earlier. However, Uncle isn't visionary enough to foresee that if he goes back to the mainland—a place he fled, by swim, twenty years earlier, in an escape that killed his beloved—he might not receive the easiest welcome.

I am supposed to sneer at the mainland apparatchiks, root for the resourceful Uncle, and sympathise with his secret pain, but honestly, there is more surprise, suspense, and genuine emotion in actual international business reports. This reviewer supposes the novel might expose to Western readers how things in Hong Kong—currently experiencing revolt against Mainland political control—got to be as they are. However, this history is almost certainly learned in a more efficient and engaging manner from Hong Kong resident eyewitness reports in the international Anglophone press. If you enjoyed Zhang Yimou's film Shanghai Triad but would have preferred it with cardboard characters and dialogue like the business section of USA Today, you might find FORESIGHT, well, visionary.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, January 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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