Translator: Jeremy Tiang
Published by Grove Press Black Cat on January 1, 2014
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From award-winning Hong Kong writer Chan Ho-Kei, The Borrowed tells the story of Kwan Chun-dok, a Hong Kong detective whose career spans fifty years of the territory’s history. A deductive powerhouse, Kwan becomes a legend in the force, nicknamed “the Eye of Heaven” by his awe-struck colleagues. Divided into six sections told in reverse chronological order—each of which covers an important case in Kwan’s career and takes place at a pivotal moment in Hong Kong history from the 1960s to the present day—The Borrowed follows Kwan from his experiences during the Leftist Riot in 1967, when a bombing plot threatens many lives; the conflict between the HK Police and ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) in 1977; the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989; to the Handover in 1997; and the present day of 2013, when Kwan is called on to solve his final case, the murder of a local billionaire, while Hong Kong increasingly resembles a police state. Along the way we meet Communist rioters, ultraviolent gangsters, stallholders at the city’s many covered markets, pop singers enmeshed in the high-stakes machinery of star-making, and a people always caught in the shifting balance of political power, whether in London or Beijing—all coalescing into a dynamic portrait of this fascinating city.
Tracing a broad historical arc, The Borrowed reveals just how closely everything is connected, how history always repeats itself, and how we have come full circle to repeat the political upheaval and societal unrest of the past. It is a gripping, brilliantly constructed novel from a talented new voice.
Kwan Chun-dok is a Honk Kong detective who sees clues and puts them together in ways no one else can. He’s intelligent, resourceful, kind, and not afraid to go around the rules in trying to do his job. We first meet Kwan at the end of his career, the end of his life, as he helps solve one last case.
The Borrowed is essentially made up of six novellas, six mysteries all connected by the main character and Hong Kong itself. We start in 2013 and work our way back to 1967. The mysteries are each well-done, intricate, and interesting and Kwan, or Sonny Lok, his apprentice for lack of a better word, solves them through clues and intuition. It’s like Holmes stories, in that each solution when presented makes sense, but no one aside from Kwan could have gotten there. A couple of the stories have major twists that I didn’t see coming.
The book is also about Hong Kong. We see the people who live there, the good and the bad. We see the cultures and the people. We see the aftermath of communism, poverty, and the brutality of vicious gangs like the triads. We see the clashes between Britain and Communist China and are there before and after the handover. It’s not poetic, the writing style if straightforward with few frills, but it gives a definite sense of place.
The Borrowed kept me turning pages. The setting, the characters, and the puzzles were all captivating.
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