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THE WILD BEASTS OF WUHAN
by Ian Hamilton
Picador, June 2013
352 pages
$15.00
ISBN: 1250032296


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Saving face remains an important concept in modern China, never more so than for new Chinese power-driven entrepreneur Wong Changxing. Rising from modest circumstances to become one of the nouveau riche of China, he prides himself on his very personal art collection. While other Chinese elite amass hordes of ancient Chinese pottery, Wong Changxing favors the Fauves (the "Wild Beasts," early 20th century artists, including Matisse and Derain, who favored a vibrant color palette).

Things turn very ugly, however, when the Chinese powerbroker discovers that he has been the victim of an art fraud. He hires "Uncle" a fellow native of Wuhan, and by extension, Ava Lee, to uncover just who is at the bottom of this massive deception. While the Chinese art dealer (a middle man) has died a few years back, leaving the trail cold, Ava Lee is able to put her skills to good use again, in this second in a series by Ian Hamilton.

Ava Lee is a Chinese-Canadian with a mind for numbers and a body fit for employing any number of martial arts tactics when necessary. When huge sums of money are involved, it usually becomes a physical game at some point, and she is always prepared. With Ava Lee, there is always plenty of jet-setting as well. This time, she travels among China, New York, London, and Denmark, with a side trip to the Faroe Islands to hunt down an art forger, but not before leaving a family Caribbean cruise mid-stream, so to speak.

Like the first Ava Lee mystery, Hamilton knows how to twist a tale. In this case, he also gives plenty of insight into the world of fine art collectors, galleries, and those who would apply their artistic abilities to making money in less mainstream ways. The world of high finance and high art meet in the realm of art forgery, where it becomes hard to tell just who is a legitimate dealer and who's not.

Things become even more complicated when Wong Changxing and his wife start meddling mid-way through the case. This is a story loaded with action amidst a game of high stakes, tight connections, and

ultimately, betrayal. Ian Hamilton does not disappoint as he once again brings to the story his most engaging character, the unlikely accountant Ava Lee.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, June 2013

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